The world in which we live may not be the best of all possible worlds; it is certainly the most fantastic.
Aldous Huxley, At Sea
There are many possible worlds in which to base your campaign. The most common world is one that is like the real world in all ways except that super-powered beings exist. A variation on this makes the player characters the first (or the only) super-powered beings on Earth.
Just to give you some ideas, here’s a list of other campaign possibilities:
You can combine these. Set the game in Earth’s future, where an evil dictatorship has just conquered Earth, and the characters hijack (or find) a spaceship, and try to lead a rebellion to free Earth.
Be careful, though. You don’t want your word processor to explode.
You can change settings as the game goes on. Characters who are lost oscillating between times might find a way to re-orient themselves in a future Earth. Later, they decide to try to return to their normal time, and have a few more time-traveling adventures, before arriving in their normal time, Earth circa 1991, where super heroes are normal.
Dictatorship: The world is under the control of an oppressive government, and the characters are (or will be) part of the rebellion.
Future: The game is set in Earth’s future--a decade, a century, or even a millennium or two.
Literary Worlds: Your world can be based on the world(s) of another author, or a comic book company. The players might even play characters from that fiction.
Nuclear Holocaust: The world has been all but destroyed by a great world war. The characters might have actually lived through the holocaust, or the holocaust could have occurred sometime in the past.
Other Planets: The game is set on another planet, with different completely different cultures from Earth.
Paranoia: The world is similar to Earth’s, except that super-powered beings are viewed with suspicion and hate. They are subversive, dangerous, and undeserving of basic human rights.
Past: There are many interesting times in our history where a game can be set. You might set your game in the dark ages, in the Civil War, one of the World Wars, the roaring twenties, the Cold War, or the civil rights movements of the fifties or sixties.
Space Travelers: The game can be set in an area of the galaxy where space travel is fairly common, and the player characters are a roving band of adventurers. Or, the player characters could be part of an organization, or even on a mission for a galactic government.
Time Travelers: Time Travel is hard to do, but it can be enormously fun. The player characters don’t even have to have control over what times they end up in--it might be completely random, due to some freakish accident. Or, they might be minions of the Time Patrol.
See Grant Morrison’s Animal Man or Marvel Comics’ She-Hulk for comic-book characters who know they are in a comic. Also, any DC Comic with Ambush Bug in it.
Comic Books: The characters are all comic-book characters, and some even know it. This can be both serious or silly, though it most often is silly. When characters know they’re in a comic, they’ll turn to the fourth wall and talk to the readers. They may attempt to take advantage of or threaten the writers and artists. They will certainly complain if they aren’t drawn correctly.
Scripters don’t usually exist in these worlds. That is, the characters have control over what they say, and some control over what they do. You can certainly experiment with a world where that isn’t the case, of course.
“And when worlds collide,”
said George Pal to his bride,
“I’m gonna give you some terrible thrills.”
As you design your nations, worlds, solar systems, and galaxies, don’t lose sight of the neighborhood. If the players know the street names near their headquarters; if they know their neighbor in the apartment across the hall; if they know the cop who patrols their block, or the clerks at the corner convenience store, they’ll feel more satisfaction than knowing which alien races live within 350 light years.
Where does someone go for a quick pizza at four in the morning after defeating three super villains, rescuing thirteen nuns and a dog, and saving the world twice?
Introduce next-door neighbors, police officers, mail deliverers, ice-cream truck and hot-truck operators, and twenty-four hour supermarkets to the characters. These non-player characters will do more to enhance your campaign than any government agencies or weirdo super villains.
Heroes, villains, organizations, cities, and countries from other works of fiction that you steal to use in your campaign are infixes. You can choose infixes from comic book worlds, television shows, movies, and even reality.
Fictional cities and countries can cause even more problems. Especially in the main comic book worlds, even the writers have no exact idea where these made-up places exist. But your players are going to want to drive there from their base in Poughkeepsie.
There are those who say that using ideas from established fiction is, in some way, copping out. I don’t agree. Certainly you may want to use your own ideas as the basis for your world, but even that is not necessary. And I firmly believe that a rationally determined conglomeration of fictional characters will strengthen and add fun to any super-hero campaign.
When combining heroes, villains, objects, and places from other sources, you can mold them into a cohesive whole using some very simple techniques. First, you need to ask yourself a few questions:
áDoes the infix fit with your campaign?
áHow should you modify the infix for your campaign?
áDo you want the infix in your campaign?
Does the Infix Fit? It is important to keep the style of the infix intact. If you are importing a comedic or serious infix, be sure not to lose the style that attracted you to the infix in the first place. Some campaigns will simply not be compatible with some infixes.
Also, some of the attractiveness of an infix is due to the world surrounding the infix. If Ultraman is the only super-powered creature in his world, will he be an interesting character in a world with dozens or hundreds of super-heroes?
How Should The Infix be Modified? You need to look at the totality of the infix. If you are importing a hero or villain, what is their origin? Does it include other heroes/villains? Do you include these in your campaign also? Some you will, some you won’t. What about the network of events, objects, and people surrounding the infix? Sounds like a lot of work. There are three important ways to simplify using infixes.
Flow of Time in Comics
Fictionalizations of the Infix
Recycle Your Infixes
The Flow of Time in Comics: The major comic companies compress the passage of time in their worlds. So, you’ll probably need to update any origins involved with the infix. Especially if they involve major world events. World War II origins will need to be updated to Vietnam, and Vietnam will need to be updated to South America or even the Persian Gulf.
Besides, twenty years down the line, you’ll want your character to have grown as much as you have.
Incidentally, compressing time is fine for comic books. It’d probably be better if they didn’t, but since continuity isn’t continuous across writers, there’s no reason for it to be continuous across time. You, of course, are always going to be using the same players; and if you do use different players, you’ll also be using different characters. Your players will expect that their meeting with the then-President of the United States in 1984 actually happened as they remember it. When you change continuity, you’ll need to do so with the player’s cooperation and consent. Compressing time just isn’t going to be worth it.
Fictionalizations of the Infix: Another problem with playing in the real world are all the books, movies, and radio shows involving the infix. What to do? Well, there are a couple of easy ways of dealing with it. You can delete all offending fictionalizations from your campaign. The infix is real, and none of the movies or books were ever created. You can claim that the fictionalizations are really documentaries or docudramas based on the infix, or diaries created by the infix. You can replace the fictionalizations with another creation. You can make up the replacement yourself, or find something suitable from the real world, a creation that never became really successful here, but in the absence of its competition (the infix’s fictionalizations), became successful in your campaign world.
Recycle Your Infixes: Every infix has a built-in network of friends, events, and objects. If you keep all of your infixes separate, your campaign planet will eventually have so many extraneous people and things that it’ll reach critical density and implode into a black hole. You can prevent this by combining parts of the supporting cast surrounding different infixes. If two of your infixes are members of a different scientific research organization, combine the organizations into one, and the infixes are both members of the same one. After all, there’s hardly room in the world for two benevolent research groups with unlimited funds. Two infixes with similar parents might be related. Basically, any similarities can be combined.
It’s a good idea to devote your first game session to a group pow-wow. You’ll want to discuss the world with the players before they make up their characters. You’ll want the players to discuss what kinds of characters they want to play.
Give the players fifteen to twenty minutes to scribble and discuss ideas for their characters, the world, and the campaign. If a player wants to play someone who can fly, they should write that down. If another player wants to play an Iraqi spy who’s defected to the west, they should write that down. If they think it might be fun to play in a post-holocaust world, hey, write that down as well.
Once you’ve gotten a bunch of random ideas down, it’s time to organize them. Start from the top and work down: the world, the group, and the characters.
The World: Remember that, as Editor, you’ll be doing the lion’s share of the work on the campaign world once the campaign starts. So don’t hesitate to make things easier for yourself here. If you’ve already got a world that you want to use, use it. Replace the ‘world creation’ part of the night with a ‘world description,’ and describe that world. If you have two or three worlds you’d like to run, give the players a choice.
The Group: Now, the players will start homing in on the kind of campaign they want to play. They’ll need to place limits on the kinds of powers the group will have, the kinds of skills, and the kinds of backgrounds. They might decide to play an all-animal group, or a group of spies.
The Characters: When the players start creating their characters, encourage them to work together. Encourage them to create characters that will interact in interesting ways. Encourage them to make connections (see the Players’ section) between their characters, and to insert plot hooks for future adventures.
So, someone’s developed a cure for the common cold? What happens to all those companies who thrived on masking the symptoms of the cold?
If you set your game on Earth, in the past or the present, your history will eventually diverge from what’s really going on. Don’t worry about it. See the discussion of Time Travel for ways of dealing with this. Use this divergence as a source for new adventures--things will remain similar to, but not exactly the same as, the real world.
You might occasionally glance at the headlines of the weeklies as you go through the checkout line.
As Editor, you should be well-versed in comic books and heroic literature. Always be alert for new adventure ideas. Movies, comics, novels, and even real life, are all full of adventure ideas.
Keep current with what is happening in the fields of science. Many advancements provide marvelous opportunities for Mad Scientists.
Don’t limit yourself just to the adventures published by FireBlade Publications. There are many other superhero role-playing games, and some of their adventures are very well written. A little work can easily fit them into your campaign.
You shouldn’t even limit yourself to the superhero genre. Horror, espionage, detective, and even fantasy adventures can all be used by the versatile Editor.
It’ll also give you a chance to play the game as a player, not as an Editor. Let you see life from the other side.
Very few, if any, comic book companies have all of their work authored by the same individual. Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with having two or more Editors running campaigns within the same world. You’ll need to compare notes occasionally, just to keep things in sync, but it’s not really that hard.
In order to keep out of each other’s hair, you may want to assign a different part of the world to each Editor. One can run an adventure in space, another can run a group of Soviet super heroes, and you can run a group of Jamaican super heroes.
Some campaigns should be kept separate. If you don’t want to tie one campaign to another, don’t. You don’t need to have continuity across campaigns, but you shouldn’t have a half-baked continuity. Either do it right or don’t do it.
Occasionally, you will want to do team-ups, bringing the different teams together for a huge, limited series adventure. And, your players will want their characters to cross over into another campaign in the same world. Besides being fun, this will give players a different perspective on their own characters. Powers, skills, and knowledge will all act slightly differently under different Editors.