At the Dawn of an Age of Wonders - Some Thoughts on a Superhero Campaign
I received some discussion, both within and outside my gaming group when I mentioned my desire to at some point dive into Hero System and Traveller. I've a few further thoughts on those two settings and I figured I'd explore them a little bit more. The earliest I see a new game would be the late-March/early-April time frame, fitting in with my grad school schedule.
Given I'm currently doing a science fiction game I figured I'd mull over some thoughts about superhero campaigns. It may just be a thought exercise but what GM doesn't like such exercises...
I've grown to think that what one sees in superhero television shows of late make for a good model to emulate. I've been working my way through Arrow and The Flash of late (I'm about a year behind...) and have also seen the Netflix Daredevil and Jessica Jones series and I've found I really like the feel of such shows. In these settings the heroes are not unique but they are extremely special. In a fantasy RPG you have the luxury of starting small, with the characters beginning in a village and slowly gaining familiarity with the world around them. I think that is a good model to follow in a superhero setting. The challenge with starting small is that in a world with global communication superbeings are going to be a known entity pretty quickly. And when I say global communications, it doesn't have to be the Internet - newspaper wire services would be sufficient to see a story spread across the globe pretty quickly.
To my mind, the best options are to have a campaign at the dawn of a supers age or to have a campaign where supers have been rather rare. The DC Comic Earth 2 did both of these - issue #1 started with Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Robin. And that's about it. Issue #1 then removes all of them from play, setting the stage for a new "Age of Wonders".
Consider shows like The Flash where an accident gives both the hero his powers as well as creates his opposition. This is a great way to kick of a campaign, with everything being new to everyone. I also like the Hell's Kitchen as portrayed in Daredevil and Jessica Jones - in the aftermath of alien invasion as seen in The Avengers, large parts of New York City were destroyed and are being rebuilt, though Hell's Kitchen is a nest of corruption. The alien invasion also has a nice effect of being a major point of divergence and doesn't correspond to any historical event. It also makes for a great explanation as to the source of superpowers. It can be set at any time in history and can even be a campaign unto itself.
So picture this... an invasion, from far, far away, maybe even from another universe. It is defeated, but entire cities are in ruins and being rebuilt. Some sort of mystical or biological virus was released into the atmosphere, the key to unleashing superpowers in a very select few, much like the virus in George R. R. Martin's Wild Cards. There's rumors of aliens still loose in the cities, but hopefully that's just rumors. It needn't have even been a successful invasion - picture a single invasion ship arriving out of control and slamming into New York City, spilling its pollutants into the atmosphere. Or a transdimensional portal briefly opening and unleashing a plague of chaos, only to close again. In both cases it's not so much an invasion but an event which would go on to have a longer-term impact as humans begin manifesting powers. And always the worry of the aliens returning. If there's not some who survived and are trying to reopen the connection home....
Image Credit - Earth 2's Flash (Jay Garrick)