Capes, costumes, secret identities are the common tropes of the superhero genre. But there are people who think that adult men and women clad in skintight spandex suits with masks and fancy capes just look silly. Recent superhero movies have done away with skintight suits in most cases (and replaced them with leather suits for example) and the superhero cartoon “The Incredibles” gave us a lot of arguments why capes are just evil!
So, can you pull of a superhero campaign without some of the most common superhero tropes? Sure. Look at the superheroes TV show “Heroes“. There you have people with incredible powers but no capes, no costumes, no secret identities, no silly names. In my opinion the premise of “Heroes” could make a great base for a superhero campaign.
Most (if not all) characters have the same origin. Let’s just go the X-Men/Heroes route and they all have some genetic mutations that give them super powers. Call them mutants or homo superior, whatever tickles your fancy. Another possible origin could be super powers that are caused by nano bots in the supers’ bloodstream (like in the computer game “Deus Ex”). Whatever it is it should be grounded in natural science. No magic, no aliens, no gods!
Superpowers are real, there are heroes and villains, but the majority of the world has not taken notice of them. Most supers keep their powers secret in fear of being repressed by normals or not to become a guinea pig for ruthless scientists who want to find out the secret of their powers.
- It’s the world as we know it
You don’t need to make changes to the world as we know it. Everything is pretty much the same, there are just a few people starting to dicover their emerging powers. Perhaps add in a secret organization that controls supers (like the Company in “Heroes”)
- Start small
If I would start a Heroes-inspired campaign I would probably use Mutants & Masterminds 2nd Edition. A good starting power level would be around 5 or 6. During the campaign you of course can rise that level as it suits the story.
- Grey is better than white
As we’ve seen in Heroes, most “heroes” have their bad sides. No one is 100% perfect like most Golden Age heroes. The player characters should have some flaws too. Let even the villains have some redeeming qualities.
- Not everyone is super
A PL 5 or 6 campaign should allow you to add people without any super powers to the team. It could be someone like Hiro’s friend Ando or Dr. Suresh, the scientist, who is trying to find and help these special individuals.
It could also be interesting to let the players create their characters without any powers first. So they start like normal humans and the GM grants them some powers during the first adventure. So the players have to find out what their powers are first.
The character concept should always be viable without the powers. Nathan Petrelli from Heroes for example was (and still is) a politician first before he even knew about his flying ability, Sylar was a watchmaker, Hiro a corporate employee, Clair Bennett is still going to school. Keep that in mind when you create characters. A superhero that is focused on his super powers alone without any other skills is not recommended for that kind of campaign.
I am still trying to convince my gaming group that we should do a superhero campaign. Perhaps if we go the “Heroes” way, I can win them over. 🙂
is hosting this month’s RPG Blog Carnival. The topic is “Super Heroes in RPGs” and this post is my contribution.
We all know the classic superhero comics. Usually they are set into our modern world and the heroes wear either spandex or leather suits in flashy colors. But why not set a superhero tale into a medieval fantasy world? In a way D&D4E has done it, but a fantasy Mutants & Masterminds campaign comes to mind.
If you look at mythological heroes they usually have special powers not unlike the superheroes from your favorite comic book. I remember that I own a thin X-Men comic book where our heroes are in an illusion created by a villain so that they believe they are living in a medieval city. In that story Storm was some kind of queen and Wolverine a lone mercenary with a large sword. I found the idea intriguing.
One of my favorite comic series is still Joe Madureira’s Battle Chasers. It’s a shame that it was never completed. The protagonists of that series are all exceptional in their own right, much like modern day superheroes. There’s Gully, a small girl, wears the magic gauntlets of her father, giving her enormous strength, Calibretto a wargolem, Garrison, the famous swordsman, Red Monika, a rather voluptuous thief and Knolan a powerful wizard. This group not only reminded me of a D&D party but also of superhero teams.
So, what do we need to mix the fantasy and superheroes genres?
- Larger-than-life characters
Your usual Joe Sixpack fighter will not do. You at least need a special sword, or a magic armor to give your character to rise to superhero levels. Insanely powerful magic items or over-the-top abilities help to give you the four-color-heroes feel.
- Use comic conventions, not fantasy conventions
In normal fantasy roleplaying games you start with amateur adventurers that slowly advance to heroes acquiring new abilities and “phat lewt” on their way to the top. In a superhero fantasy game we need powerful characters from the start, so there probably is not much advancement in terms of the characters’ power or gear.
- Flashy clothes and catchy names
No, I don’t think spandex suits work well in a medieval fantasy settings but you should not to clothe your characters in brown linen. Also enormous swords and huge shoulder pads work in MMORPGs and Japanese manga and anime, so why shouldn’t it work in your campaign too?
Names are also important in the superhero genre. For example a swordsman called Garrison is way cooler than his colleague Bob. And follow Greywulf’s advice and give your party a name!
- Use a superheroes roleplaying game to run your campaign
Ok, D&D4E probably works for getting that four-color heroes feel, but why not do it right? Run the campaign using Mutants & Masterminds and allow your players to build PL 10 heroes.
What do you think? Could a “superheroes genre meets fantasy” campaign work? I will definitely play around with that idea. I still have to think something up for next week when I want to introduce two friends into roleplaying. Perhaps some superheroic fantasy could be their thing.
P.S.: Thanks to ChattyDM
for giving my creativity a jumpstart over Twitter today and to Greywulf
for his excellent superhero-related posts!
Although I am no avid fan I like superhero comics, movies and computer games. I also own “Mutants & Masterminds“, the superhero RPG by Green Ronin. But I’ve never actually played in or even run a superhero campaign. Especially after watching “Dr. Horrible” I would like to run a short superheroes campaign perhaps using Savage Worlds or the beforementioned M&M. But I am still unsure how I should pull it off.
- Homebrew setting or an already existing universe?
Shall I create my own setting or shall I go with some preexisting world like the Marvel Universe? The problem with the latter is that shall the players play their favorite heroes from the comics or original characters?
- Silly or serious?
I mentioned “Dr. Horrible” before. The “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” was a superhero musical in three episodes by Joss Whedon (you’ve probably seen it). “Dr. Horrible” is great comedy. Creating a campaign following the “Dr. Horrible” route would probably allow funny characters and a lot of laughs. But you also could take the genre more serious and create something like the recent Batman movies. I always had some trouble with running “funny” campaigns, so I would probably run a darker campaign.
What are your thoughts on superhero roleplaying campaigns? Please share your experiences in the comments. I would love to read your ideas on the subject!