Several months ago, I alluded to a solution I came with up with for running a superhero RPG campaign. In that prior entry, I talked about my two big problems with superhero RPGs: that the coolest heroes tend to work alone, and that the coolest villians tend to have as much spotlight time as the heroes. I've decided to share that solution today, bounce it off my readers, and see what ya'll think. Following is the pitch. This pitch was written as an email I'd send to my players, so read it as if you were about to play this game. Afterwards, let me know what you think!
So without further ado, here is my pitch for my superhero RPG campaign, Fall From Grace:
For this campaign, all of you will begin the game as superheroes. In time, one, some, or possibly even all of you will become villains. This campaign will revolve around this corruption, this gradual and dramatic fall from grace that results in some of you becoming supervillians. The particulars of the campaign will not be known to you, but this overarching theme about some of you becoming villains will be a constant.
During character creation, you will decide if your hero will eventually become a villain or not. After you make your character, you’ll send me an email letting me know if your hero is going to turn into a villian (which we'll call falling, as in falling from grace) or not. Not all of you have to know right away whether your hero is going to fall, but I’ll need at least one of you to know your hero will fall before the campaign begins. You may be able to change your mind as the game progresses, but there will always be at least one character who’s going to turn.
Do not let any other players know of your intention to fall. Even if you are falling and other players know, never confirm or deny their suspicions out of the game. Since there will always be at least one hero in the process of falling, there will always be an air of dread and suspicion as each of you questions each other's motives and tries to anticipate each other's actions. This is intended.
If your hero is going to fall, we will discuss privately how and when that will happen. The theme of this campaign is falling from grace; as of such, your character’s turn to villainhood should be subtle and gradual. Sudden and inevitable betrayals are cliche. We’re looking for a deeper exploration of morality, here. If other players suspect you’re falling, they’re welcome to try and stop you from doing so. As I said before, it is possible to stop your villain turn, as long as at least one of you is still planning to do so.
When your hero does become a villain, what will most-likely happen is I will take partial control of your character. You will still role-play your villain, but I will direct what he/she does, what his/her plans are, and who he/she associates with (with input from you being taken into consideration). For this reason, it would behoove you to create sidekicks, loved ones, or other secondary characters for your hero to associate with, and perhaps even play as, when your hero falls.
How many of you fall, as well as how your fall from grace happens, will shape the overall structure of the campaign. Since I want these villian turns to be gradual, I will probably write multi-adventure story arcs about your character and his/her fall from grace, pulling from your own backgrounds, personalities, strengths and weaknesses. If several of you are turning, your storylines will probably criss-cross each other’s throughout the campaign….much like a real comic book event. I do not know yet how long this campaign will last. Each of you will have a spotlight episode, like Firefly, but storylines may take longer than seven “issues” to play out. A ballpark estimate right now is between 12-18 sessions.
The campaign world will be a custom-built universe that I will mostly design, with input coming from you and your character's backgrounds. In this universe, although there are many known superheroes, villians are actually quite rare. Most superheroes end up fighting organized crime, petty criminals, or larger environmental hazards (floods, fires, tornadoes, etc.) The prologue adventure (issue 0) will see all of you getting together to take down the Apex Predator, one of the world's few supervillians-at-large. Apex is a serial-killer who can manipulate shadows and has super-agility and strength. For years, he has systematically targeted and killed the wealthy and elite of the world; corporate CEO's, millionaires, and media moguls are his specialty. The adventure will begin with all of you having a lead on his whereabouts, and working together to put an end to his reign of terror.
The tone of this series will mimic the more over-the-top, gritty comics of the 80's and 90's. Think Watchmen, some of the older Batman storylines (like Knightfall), Spawn, or Sandman. Like those books, there will be plenty of space and color for campiness, but there will also be some truly dark, even graphic, turns throughout the series.