Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Initiative: Superhero RPG Appendix N Blog Challenge

Barking Alien put forth a challenge for Superhero GMs at this post. In brief,
“I challenge you, the Superhero RPG GM, and/or player, to list between 5 and 10 Superhero comic books, and 5 to 10 Superhero live action or animated shows or films, that typify your style of Superhero RPG campaign.”
So here’s my list- I’ll try to be brief in my reasoning. I’ve left off some stuff I adore (Tom Strong, Unbreakable, Watchmen, Wonder Woman, Starman, The Question) because while I think they’re great, there’s less a touchstone for me when I run. Each of the items below has or has had some impact on and helps describe what I want from a campaign. There’s a Venn diagram here - some of them apply strongly to some campaign forms. Others typify slightly different campaigns I’ve run or have an interest in. I’m not sure what the intersection these influences would look like.

Added: Graphs, Paper, and Games response
My Dice Are Older Than You response
Willfully and Persistently response
Held Action response
Sea of Stars response

  1. Super Friends: Weirdly enough all of the "Saturday Morning Cartoon" versions of the Justice League still stick in my head. They’re the default super-team. They’re together to fight evil. Most importantly they have a built-in nobility. I still reference stories from these series in game from time to time.
  2. The Marvel Super Heroes: These cut & paste Marvel comic series from the ‘60’s remain strongly in my mind. They had crazy over-the-top Silver Age plots usually mixed with overwrought personal drama. I think you have to be exaggerated and hyper-kinetic at the table.
  3. Spider Man ’67: There are some astonishingly weird stories here- plant invasions, cross-dimensional strangeness, and bizarre psychedelic images. I like the high weird in my game- curve ball stuff with metaphysical beats.
  4. Batman the Animated Series: If we’re doing street-level stuff, I want something intimate like this. Strong character focus, a real sense of place, and a large cast of returning NPCs. I like gritty and a little realistic, but not brutal and gruesome.
  5. Justice League Unlimited: When we do a super-team I want them to confront challenges on many levels. They have to deal with fighting baddies, but also with their place in the world. Episodic stories tie into a larger plot slowly over the course of a campaign. Big multi-part finishers.
  6. X-Men Evolution: I also like strong character backstory. While there’s some superheroics in this, most everything here’s about interactions and relationships. There’s a weird status quo between good guys and bad guys. They can interact on different terms. I like to have that negotiation from time to time.
  7. Batman Beyond: I dig high-tech plots with a degree of hand-waving. Most of my superhero games have a layer of super-science toys in the hands of important groups. I also aim for unusual motivations for my heroes and villains.
  8. Mystery Men: I want my superhero games to have some comedy in them, but played straight. Patently absurd moments are done as seriously as I can. Stay in character and respect even the oddest motives.
  9. Sky High: If superheroes have been around for a while, there’s a structure to support that: government agencies, training programs, gear shops. I like the idea of generational heroes and some characters coming out of these programs with radically different results. (Oddly in comics I dislike intensely The Initiative.)
  10. Hellboy: If there’s magic in my setting, you can count on there being some really awful stuff there. It will have monsters, elder beasts, corruption, and darker stuff. It won’t be super-science by another name with a rational explanation. There will be groups dealing with that and they will be misfits.

I don’t list any of the big live action films here. In part that’s because live-action superheroes don’t speak to me as strongly as animated ones. The three I list all have drastically different approaches to the genre. I love many live-action films (Avengers, Spider Man, Batman Begins), but they’re less in my head when I’m thinking about my campaigns.

  1. Astro City: This is what a superhero world built from the ground up is all about. Supers affect history, supers affect people, supers are human beings. Characters can have interesting personal sub-plots which can come to the center stage.
  2. The Avengers (Byrne/Perez run): Superhero teams can get caught up in bureaucracy. They may be overcome by non-superhero problems, but then they’ll have a big fight and that will clear the air briefly.
  3. X-Men (Claremont/Byrne run): If you want, I will bring the soap opera. It doesn’t always have to happen that way, but I’ll give you that if you want it as a player. Also, sometimes we’ll spend sessions on individual character backstories/personal life. I’ll tie those in to the major plot eventually. 
  4. The Defenders (#50-130): The world can be weird. Sometimes your superteam assembles for the dumbest reasons. You don’t fit together. You have to figure out how to make the best or that and actually become a team. Also, sometimes there will be absolutely insane plots.
  5. Gotham Central: There are normal people in the world who have to deal with this craziness. Some of them don’t like it. They have to clean up after the heroics. If we’re doing a street level game, you may end up at least as much hindrance as help to these people.
  6. Legion of Superheroes ("The Great Darkness Saga"): Sometimes we will go epic. It will start small, but slowly the layers will be peeled away until the big bad’s actually revealed. In that final battle, it will be no holds barred and sacrifices may have to be made.
  7. Promethea: As I mentioned earlier, the world can be weird. Sometimes the world simply accepts that weirdness. People and relationships can complicate that strangeness. The interaction of the stable and the weird will create problems.
  8. Doom Patrol or Seven Soldiers (Morrison): If I’m going to go dark, it’s likely going to come out of the weirdness. Things may double back on themselves, you may find yourselves going to strange places. Sometimes you’ll be unprepared for it and you’ll have to find a creative, lateral-thinking, mythic approach to solve things.
  9. Planetary (or The Boys): There’s a secret history to the world. That can conceal may things- legacies of herodom, alien invasions, previous universes, etc. But it can also be dark and people may have hidden that away for a reason.
  10. All-Star Superman: Anything can happen because you’re superheroes and that’s a wonderful thing.

So there it is. 

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