Thursday, August 29, 2013

Give Me Some Good Old-Fashioned Superheroics

My husband and I have recently been re-watching episodes of the animated Justice League Unlimited tv series.  Aside from just being fun, it's reminded me how much I like superheroes, comic books, and superhero RPGs, and how I wish I was still involved in a superhero campaign.  Aside from traditional fantasy, superheroes is the only other genre of RPG I really enjoy.

My first experience with a superheroic campaign occurred in about 1996-7.  One of our fantasy campaign GMs also ran a superhero campaign, using the Champions! Hero System RPG.  My husband and I asked if we could sit in after hearing our other friends talk about the game.  The GM agreed, since his Champions! group had recently decreased in size.  But since my husband and I hadn't played much Hero System, the GM had us play characters that had already been created by other players who were no longer participating in the game.  My first Champions! character was an elastic stretching guy similar to Mr. Fantastic or Plastic Man.  His name was Strider.  My husband took on Inertia, a classic flying blaster whose powers were telekinetic.  The rest of the team was composed of Mind Shadow, a telepath; Shockwave, another flying blaster with energy-based abilities; Kien, a martial artist who also had the ability to teleport in short bursts; Yao-shi-fo, a mystical Chinese dragon in human form who was the team's magic-user; and EtherealGirl, the GM's NPC teen sidekick, who could become intangible.

The campaign was set in the city we all live in, which isn't a large city but in the campaign it managed to have plenty of attacks by alien invaders, megalomaniacal supervillains, evil androids, and all the other foes four-color heroes typically face.  It was also kept a bit behind real-world historical continuity.  Time tended to pass very slowly in the game world. Each game session took place in game time that was only a few days after the events that occurred in the previous session, so that by the time an entire year of real world time had passed, only a few weeks of game time had gone by, since we played about twice a month. 

 After my husband and I learned a bit more about the rules by running Strider and Inertia, we created our own characters.  Strider retired to focus on his family and career, and Inertia went off to college.  My husband created Ground Pounder, an ex-supervillain with incredibly elongated arms who could leap great distances and create seismic shocks.  My first hero was Chimera.  She came from another version of reality that was more technologically advanced than the real world or the game setting.  In her reality, superheroes were controlled by the government and organized into a kind of international law enforcement agency.  She had been given nanotechnology that allowed her to manifest body armor, functional wings and projectiles, as well as giving her enhanced strength and speed.  She was transported to the game version of Earth by a transporter malfunction.

I had tried to make Chimera versatile, but unfortunately I ended up making her a jack of all trades and master of none.  She wasn't strong enough to stand up to the big guns in combat, and since most of our sessions were largely combat, I felt ineffectual.  After a while I decided it was time for a change.  Fortunately, in a superhero campaign, it's easy to find an excuse to swap out characters.  Chimera was found by people from her reality and taken back home, and in her place Shocking Pink joined the team. 

I've never liked multisyllabic names for superheroes, but for some reason the name Shocking Pink pleased me.  She was an electrically powered heroine.  When I created her I got help from my friend who ran Kien, who is a master at creating characters with great powers without having to spend an excessive amount of character building points.  Shocking Pink could do almost all of the things I wanted her to be capable of.  She could fire several different types of electrical blasts, transport herself by passing through electrical wiring and other conductive materials, even zap one target and have the blast arc to a second target.  I also gave her a twin, whose powers were identical except that Pink fired pink blasts and her twin's blasts were blue, hence her name: Electric Blue.  In classic comic book style, Electric Blue had chosen the other side of the law.  Sadly my plans for having them be evenly matched didn't come to much; when the GM did bring the evil twin into play ( which was seldom), her powers had changed so that she and Shocking Pink were no longer twins.

I had a lot of fun playing Shocking Pink anyway.  Around the same time, the player running Kien started a Champions! campaign of his own.  His game was set in the fictional city of San Angelo, which was much bigger than the location for the first campaign.  We started with a team of heroes who met for the first time in our first session.  My heroine in that campaign was Xcel.  I chose the name because she excelled at many things.  She could run 60 miles an hour, throw a car, leap to the roof of a five-story building, regenerate from wounds that would be fatal in an ordinary person.  She also had enhanced vision and hearing, and I gave her a couple of levels of density increase to boot.  She was a lot of fun to play, too. 

Our second superteam was composed of Elemento, son of superheroes who commanded the elements of earth, air, fire and water and also had some telepathic powers; Zora, a powerful warrior who had been transported from a medieval fantasy world (she had been the player's character in a prior RuneQuest campaign); and Night Mask, an old-school Batman-style hero who had been retired but had suddenly returned to action (actually it was a new Night Mask, as we eventually discovered, the daughter of the previous one).  We took over protecting San Angelo when the city's existing team retired or otherwise became unavailable.  We eventually acquired an abandoned alien spacecraft as our home base, which was fun because we didn't entirely know how to operate everything in it.  We had a lot of exciting adventures... up to the point that the GM lost his zest for running the game and it came to an end.  I never got to find out what secret organization was menacing Xcel's family.

Several years later another friend decided to run a short-term campaign using the d20 rules superhero setting Mutants & Masterminds.  It was a bit of a challenge creating characters in a new system, even though I was familiar with general d20 rules.  I chose to create Fluxx, a character made of fluid metallic substance who could shapeshift in a limited sense.  As with Chimera, I was never entirely satisfied with her build, but I still had a good time playing with my friends.  This time the rest of the team was made up of speedster Dash, telepath Guardian, crystalline Crystal, and two other characters whose names and powers sadly escape my memory now.  The campaign had a bit of a meltdown after a little while and was discontinued.

Eventually the same GM decided to give us another chance, although this time the group didn't include the two players whose characters I can't remember from the first campaign.  Once again my desires for my character weren't possible to achieve within the limits of the rules.  My fascination with Chinese martial arts movies had inspired me to play a martial artist, Jade Dragon.  Jade was only good for taking out mooks.  She just didn't have the strength or stamina to fight someone with powers.  But the campaign was still a lot of fun because we worked well together and the other characters were well designed.  My husband played Lord Astral, a 19th-century wizard who was revived from magical suspended animation in the 21st century.  Our other friends ran Grunt, a "brick" (tough and strong) who had melded with some alien technology, and Solar Flare, a flying blaster who with solar energy powers who had acquired her abilities from a scientific mishap.  Even though I wasn't happy with how Jade Dragon turned out, I still enjoyed the campaign and was disappointed when it was over. 

As you can see, I've had a fair amount of experience playing superheroes.  None of my characters ever had all the abilities I wanted them to have, but most of the time I didn't mind that too much.  I still think often of superhero games and how much I like them.  I have to say that I prefer Champions! to Mutants & Masterminds.  It's more complicated when it comes to combat - a single combat in Champions! can last for four hours of real time - but it's more versatile than M&M.  If our San Angelo campaign hadn't ended, I could have made Xcel into everything I wanted her to be.  I doubt I would ever have been able to do that with Fluxx or Jade Dragon.

Someday I hope one of my GM friends will again want to run a superhero game.  I hope we'll be able to go bigger than the games I've participated in previously, which tended to focus only on fighting local problems.  Someday I want to be in something like the Justice League or the Avengers, fighting international and interplanetary threats.  I wouldn't mind if our characters were second string heroes, I'd just like to be able to fight off alien invasions or interdimensional threats alongside the big guns.  Let us defend the Earth against Darkseid or Magneto instead of some crime syndicate.  Let me play a character who starts out with most of the powers I want already in place. 

And while I have great nostalgia for my first superhero campaign and will always be grateful to the friend who let me join it, I hope my next superhero campaign lets me grow my character.  Not her powers, but her.  She needs a background that actually has an effect on the campaign, things and people to care about, and a life that involves more than four-hour combat sessions. 

Now I'll return to hoping that someday I get my wish, and planning for the next superhero I'll play.

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