Tuesday, March 25, 2014

NO:LA Nightwatch: A Supers Campaign Seed (Part One)

When I was asked to run a short superhero campaign a several years ago, I went to the players to ask them what they wanted. Most comments remained fairly general-- higher powered, not street level, some four-color action. But a couple of players suggested that they wanted to do something set in New Orleans. They'd been there several times and had run some campaign set there pre-Katrina. I'd opened the floor to their input and decided to go with it. However to avoid a lot of the political and cultural potential baggage I made a couple of changes.

Since this was a superhero universe, I opted to have the disaster which had visited the city be of a  super-powered nature. Katrina had occurred the year before, and had been slightly ameliorated by the presence of super-beings. Then the following year, a major villainous calamity, as you'll see in the history happened.
The background theme for the game would be the level of distrust which might arise towards supers following such devastation. I've read many comic books which have these things happen and then the next issue, it seems to be forgotten. In the Avengers, Kang took over the world for several issues and put all the supers in camps, but once that arc was over-- no one talked about it or the fact that he had trashed New York. In fact the only one which kept those consequences going that I recall was “The Pitt” arc from the short-lived New Universe line from Marvel.

My goal would be to have the group work on two fronts-- fighting villains but also trying to reestablish trust with the community. I'm not sure how successfully both elements worked, but we had a generally solid twelve session max-series campaign with a beginning, middle and an end. I'm hoping Mutants and Masterminds GM's will find this campaign outline/seed useful to mine for ideas. I'm avoiding stats, but gamemasters may find some plot seeds or ways to structure their own game.

Most of this material is fairly conventional. I deliberately echo the kinds of fast and trope-filled material you find in much supers world-building. One important detail is that I released this material to the players every few days in the weeks leading up to the campaigns. I think that made it a little easier to work through, though some of the later concepts- especially the NPCs- ended up lost in the shuffle. 

Supers (and hero prototypes) have existed for some time—reaching back to a pulp era in the 1930's that included gangbusting vigilantes, sinister masterminds and lost civilizations. Most heroes at that time were either non-powered adventurers, based in technology or technological accidents, or had a mystical origin. International Adventurer Duke Dawson ("And His Twin Fists of Legally Inspired Justice") and Black Coffin ("Who Brings Fear and Doom to Criminals Everywhere") represent the twin poles of this era. On the one hand the public had an insatiable appetite for the brightly lit and well publicized adventures of Dawson and his Men of Justice. On the other cloaked vigilantes possessing strange powers and knowledge were spoken of quietly in the dark and dangerous hearts of American cities.

But theses heroes could not keep the world from descending into the darkness of World War Two. Many ended up involved in World War II but not to any great effect. In fact most operated on the home front or else joined their respective armed forces in their real identities. Following the war most of these heroes faded into the background, except for a handful who maintained this lifestyle.

Though the impact would not be known for a decade and a half, the Roswell Crash of 1947 began a crisis which would change the world. In that year an explosion occurred in Roswell New Mexico. The weak cover story of a crashed weather balloon only fed the fire of rumors about an alien spaceship and crash survivors. In fact the ruse was intended to cover an even stranger event-- tales of "Little Green Men" were a relief to those in charge of the Roswell Project. In fact the crash and explosion had marked the appearance of a group of travelers from a parallel world. They had escaped their own world, dominated by a being of pure evil, but fell into the hands of the government who treated them as experiments. Eventually they died under the "care" of these scientists, leaving them with almost no answers.

However certain of the more mystically attuned sensed the strangeness surrounding Roswell. While they we unable to uncover the full truth, they were eventually able to extricate three artifacts the travelers had brought with them. These artifacts had been brought to our world to prevent Lord Sunder from gaining his full strength. Understanding something of the danger of the objects but not their full importance they divided and concealed them across the globe.

In 1963, Lord Sunder came looking for his treasures. His sorcerous invasion swept across Europe, Asia and North America. Sunder's hordes spilled out of gates, cairns and old locations of power. Local forces fought back as best they could be, but many of Sunder's troops resisted conventional arms. These could only be fought with the assistance of those magically and paranormally powered. Heroes, some the children of those from the 1930's, joined the fray and the resources of dozens of secret orders, ancient masters and hidden sanctums flowed into the war. Throughout the winter of 1963 the battle raged on—while Russia threw itself into the conflict and some attempted to ally with the invader, eventually the combined forces managed a series of successes. Part of their success came from the assistance of two other parallel worlds—one, called Empyre, where the Sidhe, had taken control and held humanity enslaved. Despite the potential for conflict, the Sidhe recognized the potential danger and lent arms which could strike at the invader. The other, known as Majestic, possessed no magic or knowledge of it, but did have a hybrid technology based on psionics and biomechanical engineering. Eventually Lord Sunder was driven back and the gates were closed.

Quietly, the sorcerers of the earth put the three artifacts into new hands. One was given to Empyre, another to Majestic, and the third into the care of a secret cabal in this world. The war had the effect of disrupting the course of the Cold War, but only temporarily. Many had feared that one side or the other would eventually use nuclear arms, but that potential disaster was avoided. It also had the effect of making the idea of magic and parallel worlds and more generally the fantastic, available to the general public. Acceptance of new heroes and vigilantes arose from that.

In the years following the war, another change began to be seen across the world. Persons with new, strange powers seemingly arising from nowhere. Latent powers were often triggered by accidents or traumatic events. These "naturally" powered individuals formed the core of a new generation of supers who shaped the 1970's and beyond. The most common theory as to the origin of these powers is that the Sunder War created a kind of reality fallout-- the gates, the world changing magic, the strange technology-- all of this had altered the genetics of some people allowing these powers to appear. Scientists continue to explore this theory, especially since new supers have begun to appear born with super powers. Some suggest these are most potent latent powers perhaps activated by the pain of birth, but no consensus exists.

Next Time: The Second Sunder War