Running an RPG Campaign Cinematic Universe Style

One of the gaming groups that I play in was lucky enough to get into Evil Hat’s Shadow of the Century playtest. We were using the Alpha version of the rules and had a great time.

Since we were only going to play it for 3-4 sessions, we opted to run it in movie format. What this means is that we were going to tell a big story that was fast-paced and action oriented.

The group took inspiration from an assortment of spy organizations and decided that the cast works for the inter-agency organization known as Department of Operational Paranormal Evaluation and Security (D.O.P.E.S.).

The big plot point was fighting the Iron Curtain from Space. The team was a collection of experts who were Promoted into Obscurity for knowing too much.

  • Agent Joykill, Anti-Alien Commando tagged and released by aliens
  • Bibgy Wolf, Werewolf Detective
  • Captain John Starr, former child video game champion turned starfighter
  • Dr Dare, Novice Geometric Mathemagician
  • Vic Savage, a punk rock ninja who has seen the lizard faces of the politicians

The Game was a Hit

Everyone had a great time stopping the Russians from blowing up Washington, DC. So much fun in fact that the group has asked to keep things going!

Thinking about how to keep the game going, I started to brainstorm a bit. “What if we did this Marvel Universe style…” And the idea for a Cinematic Universe style campaign was born.

Running a Cinematic Universe Campaign

First I want to talk about running a regular RPG campaign. Each player runs a single character throughout the whole story and as the GM is it my job to shine a spotlight on all the PCs as the campaign goes on. This can mean that the fighter gets the chance to save his village, the rogue has a showdown with the guild that has been hunting him, the cleric manages to convert an entire village to his god, etc.

A Cinematic Universe campaign focuses that spotlight even more on each character, giving them each their own story, which I would call a movie, where they are the most important character. Each movie would run 1-3 sessions long.

The first movie has to feature all of the main characters. These are your Avengers.

After the first movie finishes, have everyone talk about the stories that could be told. Perhaps one character has an interesting past that they would like to flesh out, while another one wants to go solo for a while.

Our group determined to do a couple of prequels, then a solo movie that moves the metaplot forward a bit, followed by another prequel, then a solo movie that feeds into the big movie that brings everyone back together again.

Some Potential Pitfalls

One of the things that this does is takes each player away from their main character longer than when they get to play them. Depending on the players this may not even be an issue.

You could get around this by allowing a little crossover for some players main characters.

I’m excited to try this out

I’m very curious to try this out. I especially would love to hear your thoughts on this, good and bad. You can find me on Twitter (@amazingrando), and Google+.


After posting this article Ryan Macklin brought to my attention a game called Primetime Adventures.

From the description: The players create a TV-show together, establishing setting elements and potential main characters. One player takes on the role of the producer, while the rest of the players take on the role of the main characters, or protagonists. Each season of the show spans five or nine sessions, or episodes as they’re called. For each episode the protagonists have a screen presence between 1 and 3, which says how influential the character is in that episode and how much resource they bring into conflicts.

I’ll be reading it soon and may have an update to my thoughts on Cinematic Universe Campaigns.