Thursday, July 31, 2014

Bloodlines: A Supers Campaign Seed (Part One)

GENERATIONS OF HEROES
The Bloodlines setting focuses on family lines of superheroes and how they exist in the world. As the Cold War of the 1950’s intensified, the US tested its most powerful thermonuclear weapon. Contrary to models and expectations, this blast’s effects continued on in what came to be known as the Promethean Wave, a series of aurora borealis  which lasted an entire year, spanning the globe. Somehow, it activated genetic potential hidden deep within humanity. Within the year the first natural occurring superhumans made their mark. However it became clear quickly that the Promethean gene was held only in a few bloodlines. As humanity takes its first tentative steps into the 21st Century, the superhumans are with them as well. Now with the third and fourth generation of these beings there are still many more questions yet to be resolved.

The campaign would focus in part on the implications of superpowers arising within  genetic lines- rather than the classic democratic everyman image often in comic books. It echoes a little Mutants from X-Men, but takes a different approach. Here there's a more science-fiction acceptance and consideration of the consequences.

The single campaign I ran with this began with the death of many, many superbeings-- both heroes and villains. This occurred in something called the “Zero Incident” (no exact reason given for the name but it had a proper weird sound to it). This left a power vacuum which the PC group could then fill. In particular they went to Chicago to set up. Previous to the Zero Incident, that city had been generally controlled by super-villains and heroes stayed away. This device worked well for the campaign, and could be easily adapted to other campaigns. Since this was run as a limited “issue” game, everything eventually tied back to explain why the incident had happened, but a GM could leave that more open-ended.

I'd written up some of the general ideas for this about six years ago, but shelved it. Originally I'd written up something more Cyberpunk/near-Future. I ended up with a little more classic thing after reading Starman, Tom Strong, Top Ten, Grounded, The Intimates and Ex Machina comics. I also read a blurb for

Noble Causes and Runaways that gave me some ideas but at the time I hadn't actually read those. I built this as an eight session mini-campaign. I expect I will do more with it in the future. I asked the players to come up with generally likable characters; I'd run dark supers before but I planned for this to be more optimistic.

Over the next few posts I’ll lay out some of the background, detail the various “Bloodlines” of the campaign setting, and finally wrap with some discussion about these “big” issues of the setting, what they meant, how I handled them, and if it’s worth exploring those ideas at the table.

BLOODLINES BACKGROUND NOTES: HISTORY
World War II and First Supers
Deep into the War America launched a series of scientific projects design to aid in the war effort both at home and abroad. Many of these were speculative beyond belief, including one based around creating human augmentation, in effect creating super soldiers. No one, possibly even the projects originators expected the project to succeed. Yet from that came almost two dozen heroes armed with fantastic powers.

Within months they were deployed into action both as effective propaganda tools and deadly weapons. However shortly after the German revealed their own project apparently paralleling that of the US. As the war ground on, both sides found themselves embroiled in a devastating battle between these titans. Still if was the force of the armed services and the men on the ground that saw the day through, taking Berlin and Tokyo. By the end of the war, every super had died, killed in battles that laid whole cities to waste.. In the both the US and Germany the creators of their respective projects took their own lives and destroyed their work, determined that such beings could not, would not be unleashed on the world.

The Bloodlines:
In the mid-fifities as the Cold war intensified, the US tested one its most powerful thermonuclear explosive. The patterns ofsuch explosion had been well documented by this point, the blinding flash, the mushroom cloud and the shockwave. However, this blast’s effects continued on, out beyond the limits scientists had predicted. What followed came to be known as the Promethean Wave, a series of aurora borealis which lasted an entire year
.
Somehow, it activated genetic potential hidden deep within humanity. Within the year the first natural occurring superhumans had begun to make their mark. However it became clear quickly that the Promethean gene was held only in a few bloodlines.

Today scientists have determined eighteen genetic lines which possess the potential for superpowers. The spread of families across the globe during the early part of the 20th Century made tracking these lines a research project that took decades. Some of them seem to derive from a subject perhaps half a dozen generations back, meaning that the powers exist in a relatively tight spread. Others seem to have their Subject X, the one in whom the gene first occurs, in the far past, meaning that this genetic trait has spread more widely.

These bloodlines have several factors which allow researchers to draw some inference about them. First, although bloodlines have a wide range of powers, some are more given to occur within a line. Second, the size of the population. Third the frequency of occurrence as well as the distance with which some of these can be traced. Scientists are still desperately trying to figure out how this genetic information is passed. Many believe that there may be many potential members of the group, but only a few who actually pass on the full traits and breeding potential. Fourth, artificial systems such as in vitro fertilization negate the passing of abilities. Fifth, if both parents exhibit powers, then their child will as well. If only one has abilities then the rate drops, dependent on the particular bloodline.

As humanity takes its first tentative steps into the 21st Century, the superhumans are with them as well. Now with the third and fourth generation of these beings there are still many more questions yet to be resolved.

Genetic Theory and Spacing
Scientists today are still uncertain about many of the facts surrounding super powers. It is unclear how the bloodlines came into existence. Some believe that it dates back to an early civilization whose roots have been erased. Some suggest ancient astronauts.
Others feel that the tampering was more recent, occurring in the early twentieth century. Some believe that the Wave caused the genetic changes. A fringe element believes that such abilities are natural to the human race, they point to a variety of historical evidence concerning supposed psychic or magical events. Scientists are divided and the genetic evidence is unclear.

What is known is that each line has a “spread,” meaning the actual occurrence of powers within a line. Some are tightly clustered, meaning that close direct members tend to have powers. Some are more loosely spread, meaning that powers occur over a greater range of lineage. Why this happens is uncertain, many believe it is a natural factor of the super genes themselves.

Among supers themselves, females tend to have stronger powers. The super gene cluster has thus far refused complete mapping. Some families are given to only a few low powered people, others to many. Some term these minor talents “Diasporas.” Some simply carry the potential, but have no powers. However, even non-powered bloodline persons may pass on the supergene. Accordingly there has been a rush to document genealogies by the government, corporations and private individuals. Since no one has developed a test to confirm the presence of the dormant gene in those among the Bloodlines without powers, this has become an issue of contention.  In the handful of cases of cross-line breeding which have occurred, one line has taken dominance. However, the actual dominance of one line over another has no currently understood pattern.

Today, we still do not understand what exactly allows such powers to work. Many, if not all, defy the limits of conventional physics. Yet, they still happen. One of the greatest obstacles to our further understanding of the issues involved is that much of the best research has been done under the auspices of the government or private corporations. These bodies have kept a close lid on such matters. Those who have performed public sector research have compiled a small body of often conflicting information, leading more to debate than discovery.