Tuesday, May 6, 2014

"... and I'll whisper "no."

This morning, I had a revelation. I finally broke the enigma of the superhero RPG. I think I can run a fine superhero campaign. I'll talk about it more later, in case my players are reading this...but I'm pretty sure I just stumbled across an idea that's going to be really awesome. And it solves both of my problems with the superhero genre and RPGs.

You see, I have always tended to avoid the superhero RPG. I felt like truly capturing the spirit of one would be difficult, for two reasons. One, my favorite superheroes...Batman, Superman, Spiderman...all work alone. Yes, they have more than their share of affiliations and team-ups, but the fundamental, defining image of these heroes are as outsiders, those who work alone against armies of villians and their henchmen. For me, this is hard to emulate with a group of players, all of whom should ideally be sharing the spotlight together.

The other problem I always run into when thinking about a superhero RPG are the villians. In the comics, a villian serves as the mirror to the hero, more often than not just as complex and formidable a character as their hero arch-nemesis. The Joker. Lex Luthor. Doctor Octopus. Many villians, such as Magneto, are so three-dimensional they even cross the normally-uncrossable lines of good versus evil and can become anti-heroes. This is seldom the case in my role-playing games. In most of my RPGs, the villians are little more than living obstacles the heroes must overcome to succeed at the mission. In my games, usually the prime reason to build a villian up is so that their inevitable defeat at the hands of my players is more gratifying.

I think, in my own heavily-biased opinion, this is why so many superhero RPGs are all about the four-color, "Silver Age" of comic books. Things were simpler then. Heroes were all around good people who worked together with others to beat villians who were all around bad people (or not human at all!) That era of comics gels well with role-playing games. The modern era, with heroes like Spawn and Witchblade and Deadpool, does not work as well. Even the most iconic superheroes that I mentioned above have developed in a different way now, and seeing them getting together with other superheroes to foil some ridiculous, dastardly plot seems anachronistic.I am a fan of the modern comic. I never really cared much for the Golden/Silver/pulpy age of superhero. I like the darkness. I like the moral ambiguity. When asked about their favorite comic, the "gateway" comic that started their love, many comicbook fans will talk about their first time as a kid picking up an old Spiderman or Superman comic. Me? My first real "holy shit this is AWESOME!" moment was when I was about 27 years old. I spent an entire day in Hastings, reading Watchmen. THAT is the comic I think of when I think of comics. THAT is the game I want to run.

And, pretty soon, I may just get that chance...


  1. before reading the last paragraph I was thinking: yeah, I totaly got you -> the solution is playing the villians against one "hero".

    And then you totaly got me by turning in another direction.

  2. I disagree with a lot of what you say, but I am none the less intrigued. Tell us more as it develops. Supers RPGs is a favorite genre of mine both as a player and a GM, so I might be a little too inclined to be contrary at the moment. I was really unimpressed by Watchmen when I finally read it in the wake of the movie (which I still haven't seen). There are plenty of group titles that are near perfect models for an RPG. Granted many of them are some what arbitrary team ups designed to drive sales, but that doesn't make the Avengers any less of a neat model for PCs. X-Men and FF are built as groups from the ground up (common origin helps a lot).

    Most of all though, I feel like modern titles with the "darkgrittyedge" are more pulpy than anything in the Silver Age, but YMMV.

    Also, what system were you thinking of using?

    1. I'm not trying to make any sweeping judgements about superhero comics or RPGs, here. I'm just explaining my own, personal aversions to running them. So we can agree to disagree and still be cool!

      I can definitely see what you mean when you say modern titles are more pulpy. I can actually agree to that, especially when I think of Watchmen or Sin City. Maybe I just like modern pulp but don't like Silver Age/old-school pulp. Hmm.

      I'm not sure what system I'm thinking of using yet. There are SO many cool superhero RPGs out there! Because of the dark, semi-realistic tones my game would probably have, I'm thinking about leaning on a game with slightly more crunch than what I'm used to. GURPS, perhaps. Champions, maybe. Mutants & Masterminds, even. Someone suggested Wild Talents, and that game DEFINITELY seems cool, too!

    2. Heroes Unlimited by Palladium Books is a good, solid system, and its deliciously crunchy in the mechanics of combat, the game is in one, all you need to play book, plus there are plenty of powers and settings supplements that can take your game anywhere you want. I played that game for years, and it never got old.


My Own Loser Path

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