Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Today's Heroes

Following is my campaign setting for Mutants & Masterminds, tentatively called "Everyday Heroes." I drew a lot of inspiration from The Watchmen, Silver Age Sentinels, and even from The Incredibles. I intend to add more to the setting in time, but I'm hoping to get a lot of input from players and you, Dear Reader, on what directions I can take the setting in.

Everyday Heroes
Power Level: 8-12 Style: Grayscale (Light-leaning)
Setting: Modern Scale: Regional

Heroes have been a part of modern society since the 1940s. Their superpowers and heroic mentalities have integrated deeply into everyday life. Today, superheroes (a term considered politically incorrect since the 80s, being replaced with “capes,” and now in the 2000’s with “metahumans”) are a significant part of nearly every facet of culture. There are superhero teachers, superhero politicians, and superhero athletes that play in “meta-league” sports. There are PR firms and talent agencies that work exclusively with superheroes to help their public images, manage their social calendars, and even put together superhero groups. Many insurance agencies offer “metahuman coverage” for collateral damage caused by heroes and villains clashing in the streets.

National super powers like Russia and China are engaged in a Meta Cold War to find, train, and exact allegiance from powerful superheroes to help further national agendas. Many countries demand capes to register themselves...including full disclosure on their powers and secret the federal government, and be subject to drafting in times of war and national emergencies. In the 1960s, following objection to the Vietnam war, the United States ended their superhero registration policies, making America one of the only countries in the world where metahumans are truly free. It is because of this freedom that the U.S. has the largest superhero population on the planet: nearly four of the estimated seven million metahumans in the world are American.

Where the federal government steps back, however, capitalism steps forward. The world’s largest corporations constantly court superheroes for endorsement deals, offering to finance hero’s crime-fighting efforts, pay for collateral damages, and offer health benefits and retirement packages to heroes who sign a contract with them. Most corporate endorsements come down to simple PR; however many superheroes become full-on employees for their sponsor, lending their superhuman intellects to R&D and their heroic charms to advertising and marketing. Metahumans with teleportation or flight powers are often hired to aid in corporate logistical matters, lending to an interesting rise in prominence of metahuman truck drivers and pilots in recent years.

Even with super-strength or speed, life can be very difficult for a metahuman. Persistent, demanding bystanders, supervillains looking to build a name for themselves, and corporations recruiting talent are ever-present nuisances to anyone who shows potential superpowers. Internet rumors abound on secret identities, and more than one cape’s life has been ruined when his or her home address has been revealed and a supervillain shows up to exact revenge. Discrimination against metahumans is also an all-too common part of their lives. Employers often don’t want to take chances with the possibilities of collateral damage and work disruption hiring a cape can bring. Many people don’t want the complications dating or marrying a superhero can bring, and thus many metahumans are ostracized and alone. Many notorious villains claim rejection from their “lessers” as an important part of their origin story.

Many metahumans form groups or “leagues” to protect and support one another. A league can be as small as four or five high school friends to as many as thousands spread out acorss the globe. Though many leagues exist to coordinate heroic efforts and battle villains, many leagues aren’t even composed of superheroes; they’re just groups of low-powered metahumans trying to protect each other from the never-ceasing demands of a world obsessed with their “super” nature.

Not all metahumans are created equal. About 60% of metahumans range between an 8 to 10 on the Kirby Power Scale, giving them great capabilities but not any true capacity to radically affect life on a global, or even national, scale. About 39% are even weaker. Scoring between a 5 and a 7 on the Kirby Power Scale, these metahumans have powers on such a minor level that they hardly deviate from human norms (the term "sidekick" has often been used to describe metahumans at this power level, often used in a derogatory manner). This can be a mixed blessing, however, as it allows them to blend into “bystander” society much better. The remaining 1% of the metahuman population are often regarded as living weapons of mass destruction. Their movements and activities are carefully monitored, and entire national policies exist on dealing with them should they ever turn hostile. In the past 70 years, there have been reports of at least four superheroes who have become so powerful that they left our planet, flying off into the stars, shifting into another reality, or translating to a different plane of existence. Where exactly they went, what they’re doing, and if they’ll ever come back is debated heavily amongst scholars.

Metahumanity is a very segmented cultural group, with various divisions along the lines of moral stances, the nature of their powers, and their origin stories. Among moral stances, metahumanity is commonly (and crudely) divided between “heroes” and “villains” based on their public actions. Although many metahumans embrace these standards and wholly consider themselves one or the other, there are many capes who refuse to be placed in these categories, which paradoxically often places them in other categories like anti-hero (a hero who sometimes acts like a villain), renegade (a villain who’s done heroic things in the past), fallen (a hero who has become a villain) or redeemed (a villain who’s become a hero).

Aside from morality, the other main dividing factor amongst meta-humans are their origin stories. Origins tend to fall into three generally-accepted categories: mutants, humans with a “metahuman gene” whose powers manifest around puberty; altered humans or “alters” that were human until some random event such as an unexpected reaction to radiation caused them to manifest powers; or vigilantes, regular humans who act like superheroes (or villains) for their own, personal reasons, often utilizing technology or elite training to emulate natural superpowers. All three of these groups are subject to rampant debates on their natures; vigilantes, in particular, are often under severe scrutiny regarding whether or not either society should accept their self-identification.

The cumulative effect of metahumans on today’s society is a theory dubbed by some sociologists “the Zero Effect:” the belief that every innovation or evolutionary leap forward made by superheroes is effectively cancelled out by the destructive machinations of supervillains. This theory has led some to believe that reformation...or total annihilation...of supervillains to “break the cycle” should be society’s most important endeavor. The majority of humans and metahumans alike, however, believe that metahumans will always “zero each other out” and that the ultimate fate of humanity lies within the hands of regular, everyday people, continuing to move forward as a society and relying on their own human ingenuity and empathy to survive.

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