No City for Old Heroes

Before I launch into the latest round of hooks I wanted to update that this should be my last post for a while as I go into a “tunnel” phase of intensive work on a few projects I have been working on the background for a the last few months.

Hopefully I will make good progress, get some positive playtesting, and be able to announce some new stuff; but it is possible the outcome will be that I’m not happy enough to continue with these. (Which is why I’m being so vague for now).

Knowing this would by my last post for a while, I wanted to do something special, hence the current extra long hook featuring almost every villain from the core rulebook.

Also, regardless of the outcome of my mysterious project, I intend to return to writing this series of hooks latter in the year so I would be interested in hearing which hooks you enjoyed the most, and what sort of hooks you would be interested in seeing in the future.

Now, without further ado let us turn to the adventure:

No City for Old Heroes

Years ago Arch-Enemy managed to forge an alliance of virtually every extant villain to overwhelm the world’s heroes. After a string of epic battles the villains were triumphant, driving the few remaining heroes underground.

The villainous alliance then turned their attention to the worlds’ governments who rapidly fell before their might. However upon the eve of his victory Arch-Enemy was slain by a last desperate strike by elite GLOBE agents.

Now deprived of both their leader and their common enemy the villains proceeded to fall upon each other, eventually carving out their own fiefdoms.

Doctor Caldas now rules South America, filling its jungles and mountains with his monstrous progeny which hunt the few remaining humans who have fled the bonfires of the continent’s former cities. The Chessmaster has seized control of California, with the aide of The Anachronism. His domain is now patrolled by his dreaded Bishops who enforce his strict edicts against computers while his towering clockwork Knights and Rooks guard the borders.

The rest of the western seaboard has been conquered by Doctor Kur who continues seeking to build his perfect society. Although his shining mountaintop cities of superscience are tyrannical and inhuman refugees from all over the Americas flock towards them since at least Doctor Kur’s computers try to make things better for humans.

Heading further east much of Canada has fallen to savage werewolves, and east of the Winnipeg the god Zarkus commands their own murderous theocracy. The American Midwest is dominated by the followers of Brother Balance who preach that the downfall of civilisation was brought about by sin, and only through strict nobility and preparation can they avoid the next apocalypse. Although other cults, including one town under the thumb of Motherload, flourish elsewhere.

The North-Western United States superficially resembles a return to pre-Alliance America : reasonably comfortable with reasonable infrastructure beneath the thumb of corporate overlords. Even the ethnic tensions of pre-Alliance America have an analogy in the tensions between well established inhabitants of these states and the refugees who have fled the annihilation of most of the south east. Notable among these corporate overlords is Paperclips in Philadelphia and Visor Global in Providence. These corporations all work with The Docgineer and Graverobber who work together in Stamford to train a new generation of mad doctors and engineers.

Seeing the same sinister hands that took Dizzy from her behind the corporations and theocracy of the North East Sister Dismal leads a band terrorists, notably including Flare and Angry John against Paperclips, Visor Global and Zarkus.

After seizing control of Atlantis Lord Atlas has sharply restricted travel across oceans, but there is little hope to be found elsewhere. Estle and Sea Boss have managed to reach an understanding with Lord Atlas which grants a near monopoly to their formidable fleet of military and merchant vessels – based in Malta which is now their personal fiefdom.

Most of Europe is controlled by a succession of strongmen secretly backed by MARLOW, and openly backed by Dagmara and her Zmora. In something of a return to the feudal model these strongmen frequently war against each other, providing plenty of work for mercenaries and enforcers of all sorts.

Thanks to the efforts of Revenant the Undead Horror and Dark Lord Aravon the gates of Hell were torn open across the Middle East which is now overrun by demons bent upon the destruction of the numerous holy sites across this region. The eastward expansion of these demons has been checked by The One who has manifested on Earth to conquer India. Those few parts of the Indian subcontinent not destroyed by his struggle with The Ever are now entirely given over to vast shrines to his might, or factories manufacturing weapons for his war with The Ever’s proxies the Himalayas and Eastern Africa.

Across the rest of Asia Amrak has been subtly twisting the authorities into increasingly tyrannical and unreasonable positions – leading to ever greater repression, discontentment and ultimately waves of famine and civil war.

No cosmic entity is shielding North Africa from demons so much of the Sahara is now a warzone between brave, but largely outmatched, soldiers and the hordes of Hell itself. In Sub- Saharan Africa Paragon (after playing dead for a few years) has re-emerged. He claims to be forming an alliance to reclaim the world, but is increasingly not shy about destroying those who cross him and remains utterly unwilling to pick a fight with either the demons (who are of course experts at torture) and The One who may be able to destroy even him.

Finally Australia has been conquered by a host of mercenaries and defectors from the world’s crumbling armed forces led by Doctor Death and the Postmodernist. They now run vicious bloodsports (death races, gladiatorial arenas, simply setting people free and letting dogs run them down, etc) and pay bounty hunters handsomely to find the few remaining heroes to add to the spectacle.

Whether through time travel, dimension leaping, cryogenics or simply being born into this world your protagonists find themselves in this hellish landscape. They might seek to set up their own community guarded against these villains, launch their own guerilla war, hunt for a way out or simply pursue personal errands (what happened to our supporting cast?) but no matter what their goals are our heroes must battle against a world fixed on destroying them.

Twist

1.ArchEnemy faked his own death and went into hiding to let his alliance of villains tear themselves apart. He continues secretly building up his new powerbase, waiting for the most powerful villains to fall before he makes his move and finally consolidates his position as master of the world.

2.ArchEnemy faked his own death as above, but never plans to openly move to conquer the world. Instead he has been discretely eliminating major villains and replacing them with his own minions.

3. Arch Enemy was never the real mastermind. Aravon arranged the alliance, plunging the world into its current spiral leading to literally falling into Hell.

4. This world is regularly shaken by colossal earthquakes and monstrous storms as the epic final battle between heroes and villains unleashed forces great enough to tear the whole planet apart and the world’s rulers have been too distracted by their petty wars to stop it.

Complications (Generic)

1. Arch-Enemy’s spies (or people who think they are Arch-Enemy’s spies if you aren’t using twists 1&2) spy on the heroes. They have orders not to interfere but are liable to induce paranoia.

2. Bounty hunters pursue the heroes seeking to drag them to the arenas of Australia. Initially these bounty hunters will merely be men with shotguns, nets and tasers but once it becomes clear the pcs are real superheroes serious bounty hunters such as Black Dog and Major Devastation shall join the hunt.

3. The characters encounter folk who recognise them. They are either accosted and condemned for failing to stop the villains or praised as Arthurian returning heroes here to save the world.

4.The characters are waylaid by bandits.

5. Something ( a vehicle or gadget preferably) breaks down and needs fixed.

6. A passing shot in the last superbattle destroyed the characters’ supplies (of food, fuel, ammunition, medicine or whatever else they need) and they must stock up.

Complications (South America)

  1. The characters come across the ruins of a town, still filled with the scent of unburied corpses as birds and small lizards feast on the devastation Doctor Caldas left behind.

  2. As the characters wind through a narrow mountain road, alongside a dizzying cliff, they are assailed by flocks of vicious Pterodactyl.

  3. A colossal tyrannosaurus hunts the characters through the jungle.

  4. The characters pass a convoy of heavily armed soldiers, all now dead. Soon they realise they have been infected with the same lethal bioweapon Doctor Caldas used on the convoy which only affects humans.

Complications (California)

  1. The characters stay in a farm house with a family that seems unsettlingly familiar, until they eventually realise the eldest members of the family were once famous Silicon Valley entrepreneurs before being brought low.

  2. Uniformed Pawns conscript labourers from all over California to labour in the gold and salt mines created from The Anachronism’s passage through Silicon Valley.

  3. The characters are approached by a merchant who wants help smuggling a laptop across the country. This merchant is secretly a Bishop (one of Chessmaster’s secret police) running a sting operation, hoping that the heroes can help lead them to cells of dissidents.

  4. As the characters attempt to cross the border a colossal steam belching engine comes storming towards them. This is a Rook, a clockwork, tracked battleship responsible for confronting Chessmaster’s enemies.

  5. As the characters camp for the night their rest is interrupted by the arrival of two ticking monstrosities of scything blades- Chessmaster’s Knights sent on a mission of assassination.

  6. The characters reach Hollywood – which under the influence of The Anachronism has reverted to the traditional days of big studios, black and white filming and the Hay’s Code.

Complications (Western Seaboard)

  1. Drones soar overhead, spying upon the heroes. If the heroes destroy them armies of robots shall be teleported in to capture them but if they leave the drones be their movements shall be known to Doctor Kur.

  2. The characters’ passage is blocked by robots who demand an explanation of their movements and identities. If they are able to give convincing accounts they can move on. If they are exposed as liars, or attempt to fight through, more robots teleport in to destroy or detain them. If they are discovered as pre-Alliance heroes more robots will teleport in to escort them to Doctor Kur who seeks to convince them of the virtue of his civilisation.

  3. The characters encounter a convoy of refugees who are struggling to prove themselves worthy of being accepted into the guarded cities.

  4. The characters’ passage is blocked by construction work as men and robots alike slave over a massive construction project (usually new defences).

Complications (Canada)

  1. A pack of werewolves hunts the characters.

  2. The characters approach a small village, filled with well armed woodsmen who have survived so long solely by virtue of paranoia.

  3. A hungry bear hunts the characters.

  4. The characters are confronted by a priest of Zarkus and a band of fanatic cultists who seeks to capture the characters and take them to a temple where they shall be judged, found to be “irredeemably corrupt” and sacrificed.

Complications (Midwest)

  1. The people of the Midwest are helpful and hospitable, as long as you are a follower of Brother Balance. Anyone who does not continue to express support for his cult faces ostracism and refusal of service at a bare minimum.

  2. The characters pass rows of dissenters and petty criminals tied to crucifix and exposed to the elements as punishment. Interfering is unlikely to help either the characters of the condemned but few heroes can comfortably pass this sight.

  3. Brother Balance knows he is unlikely to best the characters in an open confrontation and sends his minions to steal their equipment and supplies, hoping to weaken and distract the characters before he can strike.

  4. Zarkus sends missionaries into the Midwest, leading to violence as the supporters of the two faiths clash.

Complications (North-West US)

  1. The characters are seen as refugees and receive a warm welcome in the refugee shanty towns but are confronted with prejudice whenever they encounter longer established families.

  2. Characters witness corporate police harassing a crowd of refugees.

  3. Agents from Stamford occasionally simply snatch people from the streets to feed the insatiable demand of the mad biologists for bodies to experiment upon.

  4. To get anywhere in North-Western society characters must show brand loyalty – by purchasing products and festooning themselves in branding.

  5. The characters cross paths with Sister Dismal, Flare and Angry John on the way back from a raid. If the characters’ can’t convince them of their hatred of the megacorps the trio will attack. However little short of joining these supervillains with their campaign of terror will convince them of their sincerity.

  6. Explosions shake a town the characters pass through as Sister Dismal strikes again. Regardless of the characters’ reaction the local security forces will seek them out as suspected collaborators.

Complications (Oceans)

  1. The characters are stopped by Atlantean soldiers seeking confirmation that their vessel has permission to sail – and a bribe.

  2. The characters encounter a cargo ship carrying slaves to Australia.

  3. A frigate from Sea Boss’s fleet moves to intercept the pcs’ vessel.

  4. The characters pass an island, its inhabitants all wiped out by some catastrophe or another.

Complications (Europe)

  1. A fleet of agents in cars seeks to run down and box in the characters.

  2. The road ahead is blocked by a rally one of the continent’s many strong men is holding.

  3. The characters’ dreams are invaded by Zmora.

  4. Two strongmen prepare for war, leading to borders being closed and spot checks on travellers as security is ramped up.

Middle East/North Africa

  1. The characters hear howls in the distance as hellhounds close in.

  2. A herald stands waiting at the cross roads to tempt travellers.

  3. A bus lies on its side, inside are a band of bedraggled men and women tormented by unclean spirits.

  4. The characters are attacked by fanatical soldiers convinced they are possessed by demons.

Complications (India)

  1. The Ever haunts the characters’ dreams enjoining them to attack a temple to the One.

  2. The One teleports the characters to an arena where they are forced to fight a succession of hideously mutated tigers and elephants.

  3. The characters witness a temple to the One collapse, trapping hundreds of slaves beneath rock. However if they use their powers to help they shall almost certainly face unwelcome attention.

  4. Several of the One’s slaves seek to escape, and beg the characters to guide them away from the factories they are trapped within.

Complications (Central and Eastern Asia)

  1. The land the characters is now passing through does not allow foreigners to travel so they must either blend in or pass through entirely unseen.

  2. The characters pass a mass grave filled with hundreds of starved corpses.

  3. The characters witness brutal police officers metting out collective punishment to the inhabitants of a village suspected of hosting “counter revolutionary discussions.”

  4. Two villages fight each other for increasingly scarce food.

Complications (South Africa)

  1. The Ever’s proxies shall seek out the characters, imploring them to aid them in their wars against The One and the demons.

  2. When he learns that the characters are in Africa Paragon shall seek them out, ostensibly to recruit them as allies but in truth seeking the destruction of potential rivals.

  3. The characters settle down in a town for the night, but hear howling as demons fall upon them.

  4. An injured hero seeks out the pcs, condemning Paragon and seeking their aid in overthrowing him.

. Complications (Australia)

  1. On the horizon the characters can see a massive edifice, which is drawing closer. Soon they realise this bizarre ramshackle structure is a mechanical walking mansion. What they may not realise until too late is that the walking mansion is in fact Love-Lace and within it dwells Miss Fortune as the two villains combine their powers and love of collecting – including collecting hero memorabilia like the characters’ costumes.

  2. The characters witness a hunt as several prisoners flee across the outback, pursued by hounds and men on motorcycles.

  3. When Doctor Death learns the characters are in Australasia he decides to draw them out by staging increasingly outrageous atrocities and inviting the heroes to come and stop them.

  4. The characters encounter a biker gang who demand the characters prove themselves in a race.

Adaption

Once you have figured out how this mini-campaign fits into your broader campaign (is it a possible future, an alternate universe, simply the premises of the entire campaign) the most obvious adaption needed is to fit in the key characters of your own campaign.

You should work with the players to figure out if their rogues are barons of their own territories (and if so where), free roaming hunters like Black Dog and Love-Lace above, or if they are fighting their erstwhile allies like Sister Dismal’s gang.

Selling Hooks

These hooks were meant to revolve around trade – which is clearly intended to mean trade in goods. These sorts of scenes are not unusual in other genres: wagon trains for westerns, merchants needing escorted through the wilderness in sword and sorcery, blockade runners in sci-fi and arms shipments in espionage. However, besides occasionally marketing fruit pies, superheroes almost never work as salesmen and merchants. (Not even in civilian identities for some reason).

Instead superheroes tend to offer the service of heroics. While most comic book heroes see it as improper to use their abilities for personal (or at least monetary) gain there are enough New Warriors and Heroes for Hire out there to inspire a series of hooks.

Each hook presents the commercialised heroes as rivals, or at least thorns in the side, of your protagonists but if your players are interested it should only take a little effort to rewrite the hooks with the heroes in the driving seat.

NB: After writing this introduction I decided to scrap my original third hook (about mass produced commercialised heroes) and replaced it with a hook about selling goods after all.

SUPER SHOW!

The latest docu-drama craze, inevitably enough, is the SUPER SHOW! This program takes a group of people with powers and invites them to stay in “The Citadel” while participating in various challenges (a cross continental race, an escape room, fighting through an obstacle course, stopping simulated crimes …). As is traditional in such things an audience vote removes the least popular contestants from each round.

Less experienced heroes may be invited to join the show while more experienced (and more dignified) characters may be invited to act as expert advisers, coaches or commentators.

Twist

    1. Doctor Kur has secretly prepared robotic copies of each participant and plans to replace them with their android doppelgänger. He plans to use the classic stage magician’s trick of misdirection to use the publicity around the show to cover up his infiltration.
    2. The show (and creative editing thereof) is being used by a group sceptical of superhumans to provoke popular distrust of superhumans by highlighting a combination of their flaws and potential.
    3. The show is an excuse to test the limits of power cancelling machines.
    4. The show is (openly or secretly) an elaborate audition for:
      1. An eccentric billionaire’s personal assistant.
      2. The position of “Champion of the city.”
      3. A command in an alien war to which the victor shall be spirited away to.
      4. Becoming the template for a powerful supervillain to clone an army from.

Complications

      1. Participants, now being prominent celebrities, attract fans, sponsorship offers and stalkers.
      2. The Citadel’s systems begin to malfunction, although half the contestants think this is an unannounced test.
      3. The producers seek to invoke more drama by spreading rumours among the contestants.
      4. Several contestants start secretly dating, but battle to keep this secret from tabloids, film crews and jealous exs.

Adaption

The main element in need of adaption here is how this works with your world’s views of heroes. Clearly this adventure is intended for a world where superpowers are moderately common, but remain strange and exotic in the view of the general public. If powers are held in suspicion or are tightly regulated government agents will be swarming all over the show. Conversely if powers are ubiquitous the show will need a further gimmick.

If No One Else Can Help …

Though word of mouth the characters pick up hints of a team of super powered mercenaries who, for a reasonable consideration, address people’s problems. However the characters soon encounter evidence that these mercenaries may not be as benign as they appear.

They begin a campaign of harassment against a town mayor which the local sheriff and his deputies are powerless to stop. A businessman who hired them to protect his factory complains that he has been defrauded after his factory is destroyed in an unrelated accident. Federal investigators arrive as they notice the mercenaries resemble a group of former soldiers who defected – stealing advanced technology and research into superpowers.

Now the characters must step in to discover the truth behind these mercenaries.

Twist

1. The mercenaries are actually perfectly heroic1. Their defection from the army is part of a plan to expose a conspiracy they were being unwittingly drawn into, the town mayor is a corrupt tyrant and the businessman and the toxic output of his factory is little better.

2. The mercenaries are cowardly and greedy defectors who realised they could make more money using their powers and training outwith the army.

3. The mercenaries are perfectly heroic but an enemy of theirs has sent imposters to seek to frame them.

4. The mercenaries are actually clones – each time one dies a replacement is prepared. Unfortunately new clones are occasionally erratic – hence the flashes of intermittent villainy.

Complications

1. The lead federal investigator has a personal grudge against heroes and is happy to take it out on the pcs – making cooperation nearly impossible.

2. The origins of the mercenaries powers are a highly sensitive military secret – so the government is reluctant to share information with even trusted heroes and agents of “foreign powers” constantly monitor the investigation – following pcs, breaking into known bases, bugging phones …

3. A potential patron stages a supervillain attack as a test for the mercenaries – with the pcs unsuspectingly caught in the middle.

4. The mercenaries – perhaps through distorted rumours of the pcs’ true misadventures, perhaps through lies spread by enemies – come to believe that the pcs’ are equally mercenary at heart and are merely snooping around in the hope of eliminating competition.

Adaption

This adventure presumes that powers are fairly common so that a band of superpowered mercenaries aren’t instantly global news. However in a world where powers are rare this adventure needs little adaption other than accelerating the timescale so that federal agents and pcs begin investigating the moment the mercenaries emerge.

Additionally the tolerance of a band of unregulated mercenaries implies a rather laissez-faire attitude towards heroes. If your campaign has tighter regulation of supers and/or the security industry this particular adventure might need relocated to an ungoverned space such as Mycella.

Fair Competition

The sinister Helios Corporation is marketing a dangerous new product. Unfortunately campaigners are finding it difficult to prove it is dangerous and are unable to compete with Helios’ army of lawyers and PR men. Instead they choose to market their own product to seek to outcompete Helios.

To overcome the vast financial muscle of Helios they need the help of heroes – to use their reputations for endorsements, to distribute fliers at superspeed, to help mass produce products and defend them against Helios’s vicious scheming.

Twist

1. The difficulties with proving the product is dangerous is not simply due to Helios covering their tracks. In fact this product is perfectly safe and the original evidence of taint comes from mere unfortunate coincidences which happened to feed into (understandable) suspicion of Helios.

2. The new product that the campaigners made is just as dangerous. Although the campaign’s leadership and sponsors genuinely oppose Helios they share Helios’s agenda. (Precisely what this agenda is will obviously vary depending on what product and flaw is appropriate for your campaign).

3. The new product that the campaigners made is just as dangerous. Infact the entire campaign is a Helios front seeking to corner the market and reach demographics Helios could not normally reach.

4. Although the product is dangerous, this is due to sabotage by a spy within Helios seeking to undermine and destroy the corporation.

Complications

1. A Helios agent breaks into the production line to sabotage the rival product.

2. Helios puts pressure on the regulators to inspect the campaign’s facilities and product, throwing up every legal barrier they can find.

3. Incendiary 2 is hired to burn down the campaign’s factory.

4. The characters and campaign attend a trade show – where inevitably some other exhibition’s giant robot stand goes on an irrelevant rampage.

Adaption

Helios is used here as a generic evil megacorp – obviously it can easily be replaced with another villainous company like Crey, Pentex, Lexcorp or Alchemax.

The biggest decision here is what the product is, and how dangerous the Helios version is. The player characters should have some relevant expertise with the mundane version of the product (if you party has a chef it should be a foodstuff, if everyone is a superspy hacker even in their civilian identity it might be a video game). Exactly how dangerous the product is should be based on how cartoonish your campaign is. In a fairly serious campaign it may be spyware, mildly toxic or simply liable to fail. In a full blown silver age campaign it should brainwash users or turn them into monsters.

1Save for their somewhat genre inappropriate willingness to take payment for their deeds.

2Who is described in The City.

Investigating Hooks

Investigation and superheroes are joined at the hip in my mind. Many icons of the genre are either detectives (The Question, Jessica Jones), scientists (Ant Man, The Atom) or both (Batman). Likewise superheroes are often described as “crimefighters” and a great deal of both real and fictional crime fighting is figuring out who did what and proving it in court.

Although when I started writing this I equated “investigation” with “detective work” I soon found ideas for other forms of investigation – historical, scientific and archaeological.

Murder Mystery

The wealthy socialite Ernest Cummings wanders out of a dinner party and does not return for hours. When people eventually get up to look for him they find Ernest’s corpse in the basement.

Six people left the room in the time Ernest was missing and one of them almost certainly murdered him. The classic question now before the characters is – whodunit?

Twist [suspects and d4 motives]

  1. Ernest’s wife Emily Cummings.
    1. Emily confronted Ernest about his infidelity.
    2. Ernest confronted Emily about her infidelity.
    3. Ernest and Emily argued about finances.
    4. Ernest coerced Emily into marriage.
  2. Ernest’s brother Harry Cummings.
    1. Harry has been sleeping with Emily.
    2. Harry and Ernest are quarrelling about their inheritance.
    3. Ernest recently tore down a wing of the family estate for “renovations” Harry disapproves off.
    4. Ernest had been borrowing heavily from Harry.
  3. Ernest’s PA Jacob Hester.
    1. Ernest had been sleeping with Jacob.
    2. Jacob had been sleeping with Emily.
    3. While looking into Ernest’s affairs Jacob discovered that Ernest is connected with commies/nazis/organised crime/whichever villainous group makes sense in your game. Horrified that he has been unintentionally complicit in their work Jacob killed Ernest.
    4. Ernest has not always been the best employer for Jacob, bullying, harassing and humiliating him.
  4. The caterer Mary Lin
    1. Ernest is secretly a costumed crimefighter. One of his enemies in the city’s underworld figured this out and dispatched an assassin, disguised as a humble caterer, to murder him.
    2. Mary has been stealing from her clients. Ernest caught her in the act.
    3. Mary was hired to kill Ernest by somebody else.
    4. Mary tripped and fatally struck Ernest by accident. Rather than admit to this and face a minor charge she has been desperately scrambling to cover it up- digging herself deeper and deeper.
  5. The journalist Sarah Smeaton
    1. Sarah has dug up some dirt on Ernest and has been blackmailing him – which he increasingly resents. She killed him during a fight over this.
    2. Ernest resents and fears Sarah’s investigations into his dealings and has been trying to pressure her into abandoning her investigations.
    3. Sarah has been using Ernest as a source in her investigation into some sinister group who have killed him to keep their secrets.
    4. Sarah discovered that Ernest was connected to some sinister faction and realised that he knew she knew. As such she felt the only way she could be safe was if he was dead.
  6. Ernest’s business partner Mark Lee
    1. Mark resents Ernest’s flamboyant lifestyle – complaining that Ernest never did half the work involved yet got a full share of the profits.
    2. The pair have been involved in some dubious trading and Ernest was having pangs of conscience – leading Mark to fear that Ernest may approach the IRS.
    3. Ernest and Mark were quarrelling about the direction of the business, with Ernest being determined to take some gambles Mark was convinced would ruin both their fortunes.
    4. Ernest has been hiring lawyers in preparation for a push to remove Mark from control of the company.

Complications

  1. Ernest’s ghost, who is intensely confused, and unhelpful as a witness, irregularly manifests, lashing out at almost everyone for real and perceived slights.
  2. Around the time of Ernest’s death an unrelated supervillain attack occurred. It may take a while to figure out that it wasn’t this that led to Ernest’s demise and even once a serious investigation begins the chaos of the attack makes verifying alibis almost impossible and has contaminated evidence.
  3. The killer (whoever they are) have latent super powers and comic book multiple personality disorder. When they experience intense emotions they transform into a superhuman being set on pursuing those ends they cannot pursue while awake. As such their dominant personality is unaware of the murder.
  4. In the interests of privacy Ernest had his house built in a region of psionic static which limits the utility of mind reading and similar psychic powers in the area.

Adaption

A house filled with rich people with simmering secrets that lead to murder is easy to imagine in virtually any setting so the main work of adaption here is figuring out how to handle investigative powers which could swiftly solve the mystery.

The most significant element to modify is the sinister group mentioned in several versions of Ernest’s backstory. As mentioned above, in a Golden Age game this could be the mafia or fifth columnists, in a Silver Age game it could be commies or a cultlike costumed organisation along the lines of THRONE, HYDRA or AIM, while more modern games are less likely to have identifiable real world political groups but could still feature organised crime or costumed conspiracies.

Whatever Happened to the Phalanx?

The Phalanx were a mighty team of golden age heroes who came together to fight in the bloody battlefields of North Africa, Europe and the Pacific before disbanding for reasons now largely lost to history. Today the city council has authorised the creation of a memorial and a museum dedicated to the Phalanx. However Wilma Winter, the daughter of the late lamented hero Fighting Frost, comes forward – complaining that the Phalanx’s reputation has been severely whitewashed. She alleges that many of the Phalanx’s achievements were actually achieved by minority heroes like her father and that the private lives of these heroes were far from beyond reproach – instead being filled with drinking, gambling and adultery.

This has provoked outrage, especially among the many superheroes who were inspired by the Phalanx, and Wilma is now receiving death threats.

Twist

  1. The accusations are entirely true (or at least almost entirely accurate) with much of the pushback coming from ignorance, bad faith culture wars and instinctive contrariness.
  2. The accusations are being exaggerated and added to by a villainous organisation or rogue state eager to discredit heroes and spread discord.
  3. The insinuations are initiated by a group of villains who have learnt that several descendants of the original Phalanx are planning to stage a revival.
  4. The accusations are being brought up by the museum’s directors who sees them as an opportunity to sell tickets.

Complications

  1. The illegitimate son of one of the Phalanx’s members learns of his heritage and tries to claim the alleged fortune.
  2. A prominent historian and expert on the Phalanx is kidnapped by a group of super villains hoping he can lead them to a lost superweapon wielded by the Phalanx’s enemies.
  3. The old Phalanx headquarters probably has some evidence of what is going on but is filled with traps, the details of how to disarm are now long forgotten.
  4. The various clones, robot duplicates and parallel universe versions of the Phalanx have run around through the years makes it far harder to figure out the truth.

Adaption

The obvious detail which needs adjusted to fit this into a campaign is to pick out or design the super group which will attract this controversy. In the DCU you could use the JSA (Batman’s use of guns, Wonder Woman buying out the original Diana Prince’s identity and similar Golden Age weirdness should give plenty of inspiration), and in Marvel the Defenders often have more skeletons in their closets than the better known Avengers, in CoH the Regulator’s war on drugs is occasionally implied to have been somewhat disproportionate and so on.

One trick you can use with long running groups is to have the Phalanx’s place taken by a previous group of player characters, who have indubitably gotten up to all sorts of trouble rationalised away at the time. However, even otherwise mature players often find this sort of criticism galling and this should be used with caution. Similarly if you use heroes from a well established franchise you should be prepared for players being defensive over their favourite heroes. If you run this adventure with characters looking into the allegations that the national guard once had to step in to stop Superman from destroying a city block – you should be able to point your players to Action Comics #8.

The Monolith

One morning the heroes wake up to see a great monolith towering over the city. Nobody knows where it came from, with everyone who was awake claiming to have been looking somewhere else when it appeared.

Now gawkers, academics, street vendors, apocalypse predictors and more sinister individuals have gathered at the foot of the monolith.

Twist

  1. The monolith was created by the godlike beings Ever and One1 who have filled its interior with traps and puzzles as part of their ongoing contest. Each has placed a bet of sorts on whether the heroes will be able to unlock the monolith’s mysteries and will subtly aid and hinder each other.
  2. The monolith is alien scanning station, collecting and transmitting information about those seeking to analyse the monolith.
  3. The monolith is an elaborate hoax designed to spread paranoia and distract the academic, intelligence and superheroic communities.
  4. The monolith is actually an ancient structure erected in the distant past and hidden by magic/superscience. Recent super battles have dispelled the protections around this building.

Complications

  1. Paranoid elements of the military hire the Destroyers2 to destroy the monolith.
  2. Doctor Kur and Arch-Enemy both decide that regardless of the monolith’s origins they want the means to move their robots with this stealth and dispatch agents to secure it.
  3. Rumours spread that the monolith has activated some deadly attack and panic spreads through the crowds.
  4. An apocalyptic cult declares this monolith a harbinger of their long standing predictions and send trucks of armed men to secure the site. Although the cultists are unlikely to threaten the heroes, or provide helpful information, the journalists and tourists at the foot of the monolith are in mortal peril.

Adaption

Other than picking an origin story that makes sense in your universe this needs little adaption. After all the whole point of this plot is the glaring incongruity of the colossal monolith that wasn’t there a moment ago.

1 Both described in the main rulebook.

2 Described in The City

One year of Superlatives

It has now been a year since I published Superlatives and I thought this was as fine an excuse as any to return to shamelessly promoting this game: which can be found here. Superlatives Core Rulebook – Calum Kitching | DriveThruRPG.com

Most of my previous promotional materials was written during the Kickstarter and thus was based on my own experiences with the playtests. Now that it has been in the wild for a while I can reorganise my promotions based on how reviewers have found the game. That said- why not slip past my self centred polishing and just read the raw reviews? DriveThruRPG.com

Still here? Okay then, there are three principle threads people have praised Superlatives for: its ability to capture the feel of the genre, the elegance of its rules and its breadth of characters.

Capturing the feel of the genre

The main goal of Superlatives was to capture the “feel” of superhero comics and I am pleased to see most reviewers have recognised its success here. Although this is partly done through misclanious minor touches, this is primarily communicated through the precedent and prior issues systems.

The precedent system lies at the heart of the game. Virtually every roll you make (excluding only opposed and damage rolls) adds something to your character sheet. For example if your character encounters a steel door and wants to break it down you would first try and explain why your character can break down a steel door (an easy step for people with superhuman strength or martial arts but a much more interesting step for people with mind control or chalk manipulation). If you can produce a suitable explanation (I usually set the bar for the reasonableness of the explanation round about silver age levels but you can adjust to taste) you can make a check against the attribute you are trying to use. If you succeed, not only do you break down the door, but you also establish this is a thing you can do. Therefore if you latter try to break through a steel box or wooden door you can point to this precedent to say you can definitely do this without even rolling. This set up incentives creativity, emulates the sometimes madcap nature of power use (the variety of uses Spiderman’s webs get turned to in the silver age is a favoured example of mine) and evokes the feel of classic comic fan debates in the form “can hero X do Y?”

Meanwhile the prior issues system provides characters with adventures which occur “off screen” in your character’s own comic before and between the issues of the team comic the campaign is assumed to represent. These provide their own precedents which provides some insulation against inconvenient precedents purely from bad luck with the dice and helps reinforce the idea that these are comics with the convoluted webs of continuity that tends to come with major characters in the comics medium. Especially early in a campaign these can prove immensely helpful in developing the characters and their world.

Elegant rules

Although the book’s over four hundred pages may look intimidating in fact the majority of these pages are sample npcs. The actual rules fit into 37 pages and once you strip out the helpful examples and formatting these rules can be squeezed into about ten pages.

As such its an easy game to pick up, learn and teach.

While some rules light systems can be quite limited in scope I have used Superlatives for virtually the whole breadth of the supers genre with ease: gritty iron age games, idealistic silver age campaigns, super school oneshots and superspy politics alike.

Characters

As mentioned before the majority of published Superlatives material are not the rules- and instead covers characters (about 110 in the core rulebook and another 327 or so in the settings), adventures (one per setting, plus various plot hooks in the blog) and the various other details of the seven published settings.

Although obviously I wouldn’t quite go as far as to claim there is a character for every occasion I have striven to represent the whole breadth of the genre’s incredible diversity. (A task I was aided in with the various backer submitted characters). If you need a hapless civilian to rescue there is Jimmy the Intern, if you need a megalomaniac bent on world dominion you have Doctor Kur, if you need a powerhouse of supernatural horror you have the demonic dukes, if you need a pure as beaten snow hero you have Snowflake and if you need a mysterious cosmic being you have the Dream Dragon.

Even if you are perfectly satisfied with your system of choice I hope the library of characters Superlatives has provided will prove valuable.

Settings for Supers : Designing your city

So in my last post I described how to make some top level decisions about a setting for a superhero game. Now I move into more detailed consideration of a specific locale for a game.

Although I assume that your game is set in a city – you may wish to consider games set in a small town (Superboy or Swamp Thing), a military base (Hulk), a deep space station (Justice League) or other unusual locations.

Naming and location

One early step is to name your city. This helps anchor and organise your thoughts around the city, and provides an opportunity to say something significant. Was this city founded by English puritans? Then it is probably either named after somewhere in England (like Gotham) or a religious concept (imagine a game in Mercy City, Judgment Bay or Sin Hill). Was the city established by Spanish settlers? Then it is also likely to have a religious name- but obviously one in Spanish. Is the city an old Scottish settlement? Then it is likely a literal place name in Gaelic. Leaving America many European settlements were founded by Romans so shall have Latin or Latin derived names.

While names can be non-indicative or of purely historical relevance in the real world, when naming your setting this is an opportunity to communicate motifs and tone to your players. Names may be crudely transparent in meaning (Sin Hill is a hellhole of vice and urban decay), ironic (Sin Hill is a beautiful bucolic paradise) or indirect (Sin Hill is secretly run by demonic forces) but should almost always have some meaning in relation to your plans for the campaign.

One factor that should feed into the naming decision is your choice of where your town is located. Obviously Springfield is able to change its geography with comedic regularity but unless this is the whole conceit of your setting you should probably determine broad geography- what country is in (even the Simpsons was clear on this after all), whether the city is coastal, build along a river or lake or away from any major bodies of water1, in fertile farmland, high mountains, or deep desert …

Of course, you needn’t define the precise location of your city (especially at this stage) and can leave some space to adjust things latter.

Landmarks

For super battles, and simply defining the image of your city, it is helpful to have a few major landmarks. A friend of mine recommends you start with three and I have no reason to dissent from this advice. That said, don’t just make three statues- some variety of bridges, statues, places of worship, ceremonial arches, ornamental gardens and similar features will give a range of potential battlefields for your villains.

Of course you don’t need a full tactical map and guidebook for these landmarks, at this stage a few lines stating what it is, where it is and why it is there is more than enough.

Neighbourhoods

To use a semi random example, Providence has twenty five official neighbourhoods while New York has been estimated to have several hundred neighbourhoods and enclaves. Charting out all the regions of a good sized city is the work of at least a small book and clearly more work than you need. However, you might find it helpful to have 3-5 neighbourhoods in mind.

These may be driven by certain demographics (wealthy/poorer regions, various ethnic and religious groups etc), by function (tourist centres, industrial areas, the university campus, administrative centres) or simply distinctive geography (the homes at the foot of the cliff, the businesses around the river). Of course most districts have some combination of these factors.

Few superhero cities can do without a port for smuggling and abandoned warehouses, a rough neighbourhood for brawls with street thugs and a university for mad science/mystic archaeology but most other neighbourhoods can be created to suit tastes.

Like the landmarks each neighbourhood needs nothing more than a few lines noting what makes this area stand out from the rest of the city, although it may help to have some idea of why anyone would visit it.

Factions and personalities

Finally various personalities and factions should be designed. You don’t need to know every city councillor and gang leader, but you should have at least an idea of who the biggest names in the city’s government, law enforcement and organised crime are. Additionally, if you created any global conspiracies in the world building stage you should think about what their branch offices in this city look like. You may also wish to generate a few industrialists, celebrities and media personalities. Regardless, this initial list is all but guaranteed to grow as you write and run adventures in this setting – between three and ten personalities should be more then enough.

If you have time you could make stat blocks for some of these people. But mostly you need nothing more than a few key stats (in Superlatives terms their skill slot and the magnitudes of any powers, in D&D terms their class(es) and level) and a line or two of description.

Optional step: Mapmaking

Personally I am not a remotely visual thinker so I would happily stop now and get on with either character creation or sorting the first adventure. However I recognise some GMs will want to prepare a map of their city.

Since my artistic skills can be generously described as atrocious I shall leave advice on map making to others- but will briefly note that my earlier advice to keep the number of landmarks and neighbourhoods vague was predicated upon an assumption that you would leave yourself space to add more. If you are creating a lovingly detailed map of every street you should make a list of all the archetypical locations you might want (university, cultural centre, shopping district, wealthy area, rough area, industrial area, parkland, centre of government, rail connections, historical sites (as a European I think of castles, obviously most American cities have very different historical landmarks), skyscraper and a trendy district) and ensure they are covered.

Example St. Epipbodus

So firstly I should explain the origin of the name- St. Epipobodus is the patron saint of victims of torture and betrayal2 which should invoke the somewhat inhuman tone of Philip K Dick books. Additionally, since he is mostly revered in the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches this suggests that the city was established by settlers from Eastern Europe. While developing the setting further I will need to read up on Greek and Armenian migration to the Americas, but for now I am just making a note that Hellenic names are common in this city.

Since both Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Blade Runner are set in California St. Epibodus will be based in what was once this state. Given the extreme weather of the setting I think I may wish to exploit rain shadow by placing St. Epipbodus sandwiched between mountains and the Pacific.

For landmarks the first feature with springs to mind is the film’s Rosen ziggurat. I’m not sure if I want to rip this off yet and come up with another corporate headquarters. Thus, I conjure up The Crown- a great circle of glowing skyscrapers from which a megacorp – let’s call them Adamas Enterprises – runs their business.

Given the importance of the war to the setting’s backstory I decide that we need a memorial arch- I consider a memorial garden but decide that this splash of green fits poorly with the noir punk aesthetic. Instead I conjure up a great arch surrounded by four torches – powered by a constant stream of gas.

Finally, I mentioned an electronic zoo in my previous post and decide to add one to bring some levity to my landmarks. Hector Hammond’s Electronic Amusements contains a score of artificial biomes presided over by an eccentric zoologist-roboticist.

For neighbourhoods- Blade Runner’s opening panning shot of fire belching factories stands out in my mind so “The Mills” stands at the southern end of the city. Heavy industry labours away in a tangle of pipes and wires. Although there are plenty of places to hide if needed almost nobody lives here but robots.

The Mills is served by dockyards in the southern shore of the bay, while the northern shore was once dominated by villas and pleasure marianas for the city’s elite these are now occupied only by the poorest citizens of the city as they suffer whatever the winds bring them.

The wealthy and politically connected have instead decamped to the eastern end of the city where the combined shelter of mountains and the eastern skyline keeps them comparatively safe. Some of the wealthier residents have even had whole underground houses excavated.

Despite these precautions most government institutions and corporate offices remain in the old city centre so the city’s wealthier denizens must commute eastwards into the teeth of rain or dust.

None of my official inspiration features an institute of higher education but I think it would be foolish to avoid them. However, given this is cyberpunk these institutes are most likely tied to megacorps. So, the Adamas Institute is based in one of The Crown’s towers. To give some competition I think I should add the Sentis Corporation which runs its Sentis Educational Centre in the heart of a company town within a town- Sentis City.

For major characters- the first thing to note is that despite the odd bounty system Do Androids Dream still has a government instead of the cyberpunk government by corporations so we need a mayor. Administrator Haldayn is a tired and cynical woman who just wants her term to go by peacefully. She will fiercely crackdown on any open lawlessness, but will also stall on any urban renewal or infrastructure proposals that will take up time and effort she simply can’t be bothered with.

Director Vasia Geroli of the Public Safety Administration is responsible for most law enforcement in the city. She has her eye on Administrator Haldayn’s job and is currently carefully balancing the need to keep law enforcement discrete for the quiet city both the corporations and administration demands while providing big cases to build her name.

This balancing act goes further as she delegates and outsources much of her work in the hopes of claiming credit while maintaining distance to insulate herself against failures.

The two most significant crime lords undermining her efforts are Strings- so called for his power to possess others, which he uses to avoid directly meeting any of his underlings- and Mr. Tiny- an industrial cargo lifter robot that was accidently installed with a computer designed for military intelligence. Both Mr. Tiny and Strings prefer to work through layers of intermediaries and prefer to present themselves as intellectuals so maintain extensive collections of artworks and rare books.

The next set of NPCs I need are the representatives of global organisations. Now in my last post I deferred making up the details of the government conspiracy and megacorps I needed- which turns out to be a good idea because as I wrote the small scale description Sentis Corporation and Adamas Enterprises just leapt into being. I knew I wanted one company which focused on the mechanical (which here mostly means robots) and one which focused on biology (which here mostly means genetic editing and pharmaceuticals). The only thing to be set was which company would specialise in memory editing. On one hand it is to do with the brain so feels like a biology thing. On the other hand it is about data and information and feels more like a computers thing.

This question was settled indirectly by naming. For the mechanical company which also runs The Crown I wanted a name which implied a shiny, clean and inhuman organisation so I looked up Latin words for diamond. Meanwhile I wanted a more organic and perhaps amorphous name for the biotech company and started looking into plant names. Most of my early ideas turned out to be words which have changed little down the millennia (rose is just rosa for example) but I discovered “sentis” is one word for brambles and thorns. Although I suspect this has the same root as “sentinel” and refers to the barrier these plants can form, I am happy to take the association with “sentience” and have this company also lead on memory alteration.

With each company having a specialisation and a base I’m fairly happy with them- but feel they should have a “face” so The Crown is presided over by Executive Rankin and Sentis City is ruled by Appolyon Lamprelis. Rankin is an ambitious social climber who has spend almost all of his career in space – which he considers to be the future of mankind- and has only reluctantly taken up this posting on Earth. Meanwhile Appolyon is an old romantic who funds archaeological digs and dwells in his string of interlinked greenhouses. Although Appolyon seems the nicer of the two at first I’m sure both will antagonise the players and Rankin may have a nice side somewhere (I have already decided he has children somewhere in space but the details of his family life remain amorphous).

I’ve also decided that my global conspiracy needs a suitably euphemistically named front so the city will have a branch office of the Initiative for Global Peace – a international gendarmerie who arbitrate international disputes, track down and suppress any work on WMDs and have been taking a keen interest in those empowered by aliens. Exactly who leads them and what they are up to I’m yet to decide.

Finally Hector Hammond (who may be turning into John Hammond with robots) provides an eccentric semi-celebrity.

Since I have chosen not to draw a map St. Epipbodus is ready to play. All I need is an adventure and some characters…

1 Given the adventure potential of dockyards, megayachts and similar nautical terrain- as well as the real world connection between bodies of water and major settlements I would recommend at least one water course or body of water but hey, its your setting.

2 And bachelors.

Settings for Supers: Designing a world

In my last post I outlined a brief philosophy of setting creation; advocating the creation of some basic high level features of a world before moving on to a slightly more detailed description of a narrow area within this world. This time I seek to become a little more practical by outlining the steps of creating a these high level details; with a new setting outlined below as an example.

Concept

The first step is to develop a concept. This is often more involved for a specialised world, but even a generic world tends to benefit from some mental image or a line or two summarising what you are trying to do.

Specialised worlds may include:

  • A timeless Cold War (UltraBase) or perpetual World War (Earth X).
  • A world where a certain type of superhuman rules and other types of superhumans are persecuted (Odlican).
  • A world in the aftermath of an alien invasion that hasn’t been fully resolved (Avalon Academy) (City of Heroes).
  • A world where supervillains have won. (The City) (Old Man Logan).
  • A world undergoing various apocalypses. (Nightworld) (Certain SCP Foundation canons).

Generic concepts may include:

  • A world in the Golden/Silver/Bronze/Iron/Modern age of comics – either actually during this time period or with these attitudes in the modern world.
  • A world where superheroes are respected and adored.
  • A world where superheroes are dreaded.
  • A world where all superheroes have the same origin.
  • A world with plentiful crime and incompetent police desperately in need of superheroes.

Note that any of the foregoing generic concepts could become a specialised setting if sufficiently developed and if you branch away from the central idea any of the specialised concepts could produce a generic setting.

Now if you really strictly wanted a de minimus setting, this first step is also the last. Armed with a concept and a ruleset you are ready to invite some players, and get on with playing. However, the subsequent steps are helpful for developing a nice solid foundation for your game so, unless you are committed to challenging yourself, read on.

Scope

What I like to call scope is also important to consider.

This covers the related questions of how common superhumans are and how much have they impacted society? You needn’t fill in every detail of how super speedsters now collect the rubbish to be recycled by a robot that eats plastic- or at the opposite end how the police remain bewildered at how the intangible man got out of the handcuffs. But you should have an idea of which end of this spectrum your game approaches.

As discussed in the Superlatives rulebook a setting with numerous superhumans is usually more heavily impacted by them, but you can mix this up with numerous but secret superhumans, or newly introduced superhumans who haven’t yet changed the world: or conversely with one or two exceptionally powerful and charismatic icons who have reshaped the world alone.

Specific numbers (one in a million people are superhumans, four fifths of superhumans think the whole hero villain malarkey isn’t worth it …) is often more detail than you need – although there is a table covering this in the rulebook.

The next element of defining the scope is thinking about what origins you allow. The default in most games I have seen is to either require all characters have the same origin (you are all mutants, all saw the falling star, all products of military experiments) or allowing players almost total freedom to define their own characters.

However you may wish to consider intermediate positions. You can steer the game towards certain styles by customising origins. For example Golden Age heroes tended to be empowered by some combination of elite training, magic and a distinctive gadget or two while silver age heroes are more likely to have a “scientific” origin and a veritable armoury of gadgets. More subtly superheroes in the golden age may be the agents and champions of the gods but its not until the silver age that they become gods themselves. Golden Age heroes would occasionally wield a gun, which almost entirely vanishes from the genre in the silver age, before becoming ubiquitous in the nineties.

Even if you tend to take a laisse faire attitude alien and divine characters imply a lot about the wider setting and you may wish to prepare ground rules on these. “Aliens are allowed, but must be somehow tied to one of the three interstellar empires,” “this game is using the Aztec pantheon, any divine or mystical characters needs to be connected to that somehow,” etc.

Mass divergences

In most respects superheroes are assumed to be set in something that looks a lot like our world. There may be numerous differences (superheroes walk the streets, a few extra countries, superhero comics and films look extremely different …) but by and large anything found in our world can be found in a superhero world.

Any major divergences from this expectation can throw players and undermine the integrity of the campaign. To use one example from my own experience: over the course of a year and a half we established what sorts of things existed in the setting: superhumans with whacky origins, uplifted animals (and vegetables), mutants, paranormal extradimensional beings, super spies with advanced gadgets and a mixture of real and fictitious countries.

When one character died the player opted to introduce an alternate reality version of another pc – so our list of things that existed grew to cover alternate histories. This worked fine because we could tie them to the extradimensional beings, and they were kept sufficiently secret that we could imagine them not being brought up yet. However, a year and a half into the game I needed to add in elements from Avalon Academy to get them playtested. Suddenly not only were there aliens- but there was an entire alien invasion in the campaign’s backstory which simply hadn’t been mentioned for some reason. This was met with incredulity and strained everyone’s disbelief. But that’s part of what playtesting is for – to learn what to warn people against.

So, a brief checklist of things to consider:

  • Superhumans clearly exist, otherwise this wouldn’t be a superhero setting. But have they existed since the second world war, since antiquity, since the dimensional borer was invented last week?
  • Has there been any contact with aliens?
  • Are there any other worlds, dimensions or alternate timelines?
  • Does magic exist? Are there any particular magical schools and traditions of magic or can players just make that up themselves?
  • Are there any gods, and if so what pantheons are there?
  • Have there been any “crisis crossover” style events that everyone remembers? You might not know exactly what went on with the multiverse- but you certainly remember the five Earths filling the sky.
  • Are there any widely known non-human sentient races (aliens, human offshoots like the Morlocks and Eternals, supernatural creatures like trolls, uplifted animals …)?

This list deliberately is not a comprehensive guide to all possible changes – celebrities, politicians, brands and companies and entire countries are ignored. (They can be addressed in the next step if you feel it is needed). This list only covers existential elements which shape people’s perception of the entire setting.

As alluded to above, even if you leave one of the questions for latter you can choose to (for example) introduce aliens, you just need to explain that they were covered up, or far away and only now invading, or otherwise justify the change. Still planning at this step is helpful for laying the breadcrumbs.

Features

Once you have a concept, defined the scope of superhumans and settled any major divergences you can go down to designing an area- as I will describe in the next post.

However you may wish to fill in a few distinctive features of the world.

These features can be almost anything that changes the world and is likely to turn up in multiple adventures. Major organisations (including organised crime, HYDRA-esque costumed terror groups, conspiracies, mega-corps and government departments), any major locations (like Wakanda or the Savage land) that don’t exist in the real world, any alien races, any gods and pantheons …

You don’t need an exhaustive list at this stage  – just follow what interests you. I like organizations so I am likely to create a government agency or two, an expy of HYDRA, a cabal of mystics and similar groups.

Another GM may prefer to develop the world’s most iconic heroes and a top ten most wanted supervillains. Another GM still may prefer to develop schools of thought. Perhaps there are scientific (neogenics anyone?), mystical or even philosophical traditions that are particularly tied to superhumans. While they may have no formal organization a shared intellectual background allows you to tie together heroic and villainous characters alike. (In such a game the publisher of the field’s leading journal may become a surprisingly important figure).

If you know any of your players have particular tastes you might want to add some content tied to this- give a clan of ninja for the anime fan to interact with and a evil megacorporation for your environmentalist to rail against. No doubt a few more ideas will come up in character creation, and you should feel free to add new features as you go along.

If you are stumped for ideas each of the previous big questions implies more questions. If for example you decide there are gods: you raise questions of if these gods are widely worshipped? do they regularly interact with humans? how do they interact with any other pantheons (if any)? and a dozen other questions.  Briefly addressing these sorts of questions while leaving space to expand on them if the campaign turns in this direction should fill out the setting.

Likewise, I noted that celebrities, corporations, political figures and fictional countries have all been skimmed over in the previous entry and can be described here.

Now I fully expect the reader to direct my attention back to my early statement that I was meant to be identifying a quantum of material to begin a campaign in yet here I am encouraging you to make more and more. The hypothetical reader is right to counsel caution. A few features built into the heart of the world can shape a campaign and enhance their impact by being woven in right from the start. A score of features designed before the campaign received the slightest contact with players may not be an effective use of time.

Example St. Epipodius

St. Epipodius is a specialised setting that I’m going to use as an example of setting creation.

So, my first step is to have a concept.

Recently I was reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and was struck by a line where a character is afraid of dust clouds turning him into a “special.” Although in context it is clearly a euphemism this does sound a lot like an origin story to me. So I started conjuring up an image of a world inspired by the novella. After a devastating global conflict the world is depopulated- partly from the conflict and partly from efforts to colonise the stars. The remaining Earthbound humans dread the clouds of radioactive dust which can transform them into “specials” – beings whose abilities transcend humanity and consequently receive reactions ranging from caution to superstitious dread.

Now that would be enough of a concept to get me going, but I happened to see Total Recall while writing this setting and given the conceptual similarities opted to draw some inspiration from this as well. However Total Recall’s association of mutation with the colonies fits badly with my existing plans of having mutation be a hazard of Earth’s dust clouds so that element will be restricted to Earth.

Now we have already started on defining origins so I will address that before going into broader prevalence questions. Clearly characters can be Specials, empowered by the great clouds of radiation. Players may opt to have additional mutations to varying degrees. Alternatively given the importance of robots to the short story robotic characters will be permitted. There may be prejudice against robotic characters (I’ve not fully decided) but they certainly can’t be legally shot on sight and there will be no generic bounty. There are no living aliens presently known, but colonial archaeologists have found ruins filled with technology beyond even what this future Earth can muster – so characters may be empowered by these ancients. Finally, the option exists to simply be a highly trained human equipped with advanced gadgets. Other traditional superhero origins (lab accident, magic, other dimension etc) will be discouraged, although I expect to talk to the player before banning outright.

In terms of the impact and prevalence of superhumans- the existence of Specials is widely known and dreaded but their exclusion from society means they have little influence on culture, commerce and the like. The police and military are distinctly aware off them and have countermeasures prepared. Alien empowered characters are very rare and countermeasures need to rely on those designed to hunt and counter specials.[1] Robots however are a fully integrated element of society and few businesses lack a robot, although only major factories or government departments are likely to have a player character grade robot. Consequently anti robot measures (EMP, an official override code, etc) will be widely available to police and army personnel.

In demographic terms specials appeared marginalised but not unusual in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? so I decided that perhaps 10% of the population were minor specials with weak powers (in Superlatives terms Child to Trained powers). Powerful specials are much rarer- perhaps one in a thousand. I want the aliens to be mysterious and distant so those empowered by these ruins are extraordinarily rare (especially back on Earth). In addition to the player characters there may be tens of such beings. Finally robots are, as mentioned before, well integrated to society and about as ubiquitous as humans.

Since the initial idea is that this world is depopulated by nuclear war and colonisation the absolute number of humans here is quite low- let’s say a billion folk left on Earth. If I settle on 20% for minor specials that gives us about a billion robots, about hundred million minor specials, a hundred thousand major specials and less than fifty alien empowered folk. This feels a bit more than I had imagined so I shift the ratios slightly, saying 1% are minor specials and one in a million are major specials. This gives us about ten million minor specials and a thousand major specials.[2]

Moving onto the divergences step; we have already addressed our existential questions about superhumans (not until the war/discovering aliens), gods (no), magic (no) and aliens (yes, but only their ruins). I still need to decide if there are any non human sentient races and decide on if there have been any set piece historic events everyone would know about.

I’m not ruling out genetic engineering being used to make non human sentient life within this setting, but we already have a lot of changes from Earth as we know it. Since these genetically engineered races don’t exist in any of my official sources of inspiration I won’t include any unless a pressing need for such creatures (such as a player wanting to play as one) emerges latter in the campaign.

As for set piece historical events- the setting already features the colonisation program, the discovery of alien ruins and the great war. Sooner or latter people will ask which order these came in.

I think the space program needs to predate the great war, otherwise folk will reasonably ask how they managed to muster the logistics of such a massive and novel space program in the devastated post war economy. Meanwhile the aliens are meant to be strange and mysterious- so I don’t think they should be public knowledge until after the war.

Phillip K Dick deliberately left the nature and causes of World War Terminus unclear- but since the question will turn up sooner or latter I will need at least a pencil sketch.

The twenty first century was defined by rapid technological progress, coupled with the rot of institutions. The (relative) commodification of space flight, the manned exploration of the solar system and early efforts towards terraforming exemplify the first. The paranoia, showboating and tactless diplomacy that spiralled into the Global War exemplify the second. Now while this broad draft might not be good enough for publication, for actually playing a game that should be enough- at least until an adventure starts revolving around the origins of the war.

Finally we come to other features of the setting.

The most notable things I haven’t addressed yet are the high tech elements of the world. (Except for those related to space flight and robotics). There are four particularly notable high tech elements of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: the robots (including the eponymous sheep), the hover cars, empathy boxes and mood organs.

I tend to take a more instrumentalist attitude towards robots so while I don’t want to deny the importance of electronic animals to the original book I’m not convinced these are helpful for a supers game. (Individual animals or an entire robot zoo – definitely – a robot sheep or dog in every household – not so much). Hovercars say “future” without significantly changing game play (at least in a supers game where half the party would be able to fly anyway) so hover cars, lorries, tanks and trains will be widespread.

The empathy boxes and mood organs are harder for me to decide on. The casual dehumanisation involved may be quite important to Phillip K Dick’s literary message but feels like a distinct barrier to entry for a new player- particularly one who hasn’t read the book. Consequently I decide against widespread mood organs. However some mind altering technology- both empathy boxes and Recall style memory alteration will be used. Like the anti-special countermeasures I don’t need to determine exactly what applications have been designed- just that memory and emotion altering technology is around for when plots and characters may be shaped by these.

The next major element of my source material that has gone unmentioned is the weather. Blade Runner famously features constant rain while this whole setting was designed around terrible drifting dust clouds. To model this preoccupation I created the following daily weather table:

% Roll Weather
01-10 Special (major storm, clear day, unique plot relevant event)
11-20 Torrential rain and thunderstorm
21-30 Torrential rain (obscured visibility, slippery surfaces, increased delays in travel)
31-40 Heavy rain (reduced visibility)
41-50 Light rain (no specific effect)
51-60 Low dust (concerning but not likely to have a specific game impact)
61-70 Moderate dust (limited travel as folk take cover, small chance of radiation poisoning)
71-80 Thick dust (obscured visibility, radiation poisoning, no non-essential travel)
81-90 Thick dust with a thunderstorm
91+ Special (major storm, clear day, unique plot relevant phenomena etc)

Finally I know that I will need some sinister corporations and possibly some government conspiracy related to the alien ruins. Since the players won’t be privy to the inner details of each conspiracy for a while and I don’t presently feel very inspired by either I will just make a note to come back to these latter.

Next time I will describe how to design a particular area for your setting, along with specific details of the city of St.Epipbodus.

[1] At this stage I don’t need to know what the counter measures are- just that they do exist.

[2] As I said earlier, these sorts of maths is usually not worth it but when writing things out I felt the need for a sense check.

Settings for Supers: Groundwork and definitions

So I have recently seen a few people asking – from slightly different angles – how to make a setting for a roleplaying game. So I thought it would be good to start putting down a few thoughts on how to specifically make a setting for supers games.

Now one thing that almost all good setting building advice starts with is a warning. Many GMs have Tolkienesque aspirations. They want an entire world with a calendar, astrology, a vast map of four continents down to every hamlet, a score of cultures with their own taboos, diets, styles of dress and legal codes for each continent and a whole text book of history explaining how it all fits together.

That’s great if you can have it. (Although this very fantasy orientated description might be a little odd in a superhero game). But chances are the time you spend writing and rewriting your setting bible is time you aren’t gaming. Far better to prepare the minimum you need and develop more during and alongside play. So that’s what this article is mostly about – identifying the quantum of material to think about before developing more in play.

Before I move on to the details I should clarify a few points.

Truth according to Calum

Obviously, like most things with roleplaying, this advice is quite personal. The further I get down the list of recommendations the more optional this advice will get. The first few questions to consider are virtually obligatory to answer and if you don’t answer them during this setting creation phase you will likely find it answered during the first few sessions/character creation. Latter questions increasingly reflect my interests, modes of thinking and to a lesser degree, players.

Types of setting

Although in drama and literary analysis the setting can change from scene to scene in roleplaying games we tend to use the term to refer to campaign settings – the world in which the campaign, and possibly many other campaigns, takes place.

We can classify these in a few different ways. For the purposes of this blog there are two frameworks that appear helpful: distinguishing between areas, worlds and meta settings, and distinguishing between generic settings and specialised settings.

Areas are a small region of a wider world; for example Ghostwalk covers a single peninsula with particular focus on a single city. Worlds may describe certain regions in far more detail than others but describe a (mostly) self-contained whole; like Oerth or the Star Wars Galaxy. Meta settings provide worlds that may be brimming with their own content but mostly act as a bridge between what would otherwise be self-contained settings. Planescape and Spelljammer are prominent meta settings.

All Superlatives settings so far are areas, although some (Avalon Academy and Nightworld) imply a lot more about the wider world than others (The City’s denial of the outside world being an extreme case of this). The Champions universe is a prominent world for supers roleplaying; as are the MU and DCU themselves. Given the nature of the genre most supers worlds resemble a meta setting but Storm Trek is particularly strongly geared towards this.[1]

Generic settings are those that simply present a genre. Greyhawk, Mystra and the Forgotten Realms are all generic fantasy settings. Likewise the MU, DCU and Paragon City are all generic superhero worlds. Specialised worlds each have key ideas that marks them out as distinctive within their genre. Dark Sun’s survival orientated desert with corrupt and dreaded magic and widespread psionics is a particularly iconic example of a specialised setting. Base Raiders[2] with its world of abandoned superbases acts as a specialised superhero setting. Superlatives settings each try to have a specialised element of some description: although some (the City, Nightworld, Epoch City) are more specialised than others (Ultra Base, Odlican, Avalon Academy and Opportunity).

Now I should stop a moment and caution that generic isn’t bad, bland or even unoriginal.  Indeed the absence of overarching key themes often gives generic settings more freedom to be used as the plot and mood takes you. (Something which can’t – or at least shouldn’t – be said of (for example) Ravenloft).

So where does all this hair splitting leave us?

Well if we are seeking to identify the quantum of material you need to design it would seem you should choose to design an area. (Which for supers almost always means a city). However, as you design these you are likely to keep stumbling over interdependencies. For example Odlican describes a single country ruled by mutants and magicians.[3] When writing this kingdom it was extremely difficult not to remark on the extent to which other countries are ruled by similar super powered elites. As such I counsel beginning with designing a few top-level details of your world and only then designing an area. Even if you reject this methodology this gives me a structure for the blog so I will proceed on this basis.

As such, next time we will talk about how to design the highlevel outline of a setting.

[1] https://www.rpg.net/columns/superseeds/superseeds35.phtml

[2] http://www.baseraiders.com/

[3] https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/319573/SUperlatives-Odlican

Military Hooks

Although superheroes at war might not be quite as famous as superheroes in law enforcement there is a long history of military action by superheroes. Almost every significant Golden Age hero fought the Nazis; many Iron Age heroes fought in, or were otherwise connected to, Vietnam; Hulk was drawn into subterranean wars between Tyrannus and Mole Man; the Avengers caught in the crossfire of the Kree Skrull War; the DCU has repelled innumerable alien invasions; and CoX is dominated by the wars with the Rikti and Praetorians.

Initially while working on these hooks I planned to write three wars, but in the end decided that at least two of these wars wouldn’t fit into most campaigns and so would be better to write three relatively generic operations that could be adjusted to fit into any campaign. Still, I needed to make some assumptions – the characters would be part of a military command structure, their enemies are mostly human but include their own super humans and the war would be (mostly) Earthbound. Still, if you want to play a game where the characters are independent wanderers struggling past armies of robots on Venus I hope you can still lift something from this blog.

While writing I quickly realised I needed names for the factions – and opted to simply call the pcs’ foes the Enemy and (following the conventions of both CoX and real Opfor exercises) the pcs’ side Blue.

Operation Crashing Waves

The island of Elinda per Mer stands between Blue and Enemy territory. As such it is now in the unenviable position of being a key target for both factions. Blue Intelligence suggests that the Enemy are sending their premier super team to lead the assault upon Elinda per Mer and to counteract them the pcs are dispatched.

Twist

  1. Elinda per Mer is actually virtually worthless strategically (the currents are ill suited to actually getting anywhere) but once Blue command learnt the Enemy were sending their finest supers they decided they would need to respond in kind. The Enemy initially realised the error in dispatching their heroes on such a pointless errand but when they learnt that Blue was sending the pcs they felt they needed to continue deploying their own elites.
  2. The locals are opposed to both factions and refuse to allow the pcs to land on Elinda per Mer.
  3. Many locals have already secretly sided with the Enemy and seek to lure the pcs into an ambush.
  4. Blue forces have already secretly established a base on the island that monitors Enemy naval movements and Blue command’s principle objective here is to protect this installation and its crucial supply of intelligence.

Complications

  1. Weather and the vagaries of war combine to cut off supply lines. Characters must scavenge for food, fuel and ammunition.
  2. A particularly massive super battle disturbs livestock that begin to stampede. If the characters don’t step in the larger animals will cause widespread property damage and the smaller animals will be lost – causing terrible disruption for the farmers.
  3. An Enemy aircraft carrier arrives off shore and as the pcs face their opposite numbers Enemy airstrikes begin against them.
  4. Faced with defeat the Enemy bring in battleships and begin bombarding the entire island to deny it to Blue forces.

Adaption

There are key elements at the heart of this adventure – the island and the Enemy superteam. If both factions are landlocked (or interstellar empires) the role of Elinda per Mer may be played by a strategic town, asteroid base or any other large inhabited feature.

The rival superteam is left undefined since they should be representative of the Enemy. The may be genetically enhanced super soldiers for Nazis, cosmic beasts and orbital drop ships for alien invaders, colossal robots for Doctor Kur or highly trained martial artists for the Matriarchs of Lamia. Ideally the pcs will have some personal relationship with the Enemy superteam, who may have brought in established villains as mercenaries.

Operation Tower

Doctor Seigried Hansen has been recruited by the Enemy to work on a project that shall change the course of the war – a wormhole generator which will permit Enemy forces to strike anywhere they wish!

Obviously this project must not be completed and the characters are sent to destroy the project, the doctor’s notes and take him into Blue custody. They must be through since a half finished job will only delay the Enemy from obtaining this awesome power.

Twist

  1. Doctor Hansen’s experiments have attracted the attention of an alien stranded on Earth and prepared to do anything, including kidnapping, blackmailing and killing, to steal the wormhole generator and use it to return home.
  2. Doctor Hansen is a fraud who is making no real efforts at developing wormhole technology – but is definitely interested in taking Enemy money.
  3. Doctor Hansen’s assistant is a spy for a neutral power and seeks to smuggle away this technology.
  4. Doctor Hansen’s research is assisted by an imprisoned alien intelligence.

Complications

  1. Doctor Hansen’s laboratory is located deep in the mountains and can only be approached by a perilous winding road.
  2. Doctor Hansen is paranoid and doesn’t tell anyone where he keeps the backups of his notes. Several Enemy counterintelligence operatives have attempted to figure it out but so far even they haven’t located his prototypes.
  3. Doctor Hansen has invited the Enemy leader to witness the latest test. While this may be an opportunity for the characters to carry out an assassination/kidnapping it also means even greater security measures.
  4. As the players begin their plan they notice a storm is brewing …

Adaption

The nature of Doctor Hansen’s project is one of the most obvious options to adapt if you wish to change this adventure. A super soldier project, a super weapon, a means to disable Blue superheroes, even an improved variety of plane – any technological breakthrough liable to change the course of the war could be substituted.

Operation Toppled Colossus

Enemy forces are massing and are threatening to advance into a new front – fatally splitting the attention of the Blue forces. Since Blue command cannot afford to dedicate the manpower and resources required to properly engage on this new front the characters are ordered to head behind enemy lines and set about disrupting, delaying and destroying this force so that the new front won’t open.

Twist

  1. At least some of the Enemy forces are illusionary (or otherwise faked).
  2. The enemy are also stretched thin and have no intention of opening a new front, with these troops being simply deployed with the intent of preventing Blue forces from opening this front.
  3. Things are even worse than Blue command realised. There is at least five times more soldiers in this build up than the pcs were briefed and the other fronts are also seeing increases in military presence as Enemy command prepares for a surge they think will let them break through.
  4. The troops here were not deployed to attack Blue forces but put down partisans who were threatening strategic energy infrastructure.

Complications

  1. The Enemy has invested in sophisticated cameras (either using advanced computer processing or a special emulsion) which allows them to bypass illusion and invisibility powers.
  2. The Enemy have jamming equipment which disrupts the pcs communications, and potentially some of their powers.
  3. The characters learn that The Enemy has recently fallen out with a powerful gang of smugglers in the area. However the ethics of this gang leave much to be desired which may perturb more morally scrupulous superheroes.
  4. The Enemy establishes several fake ammo dumps and signal stations they seek to lure the pcs into attacking.

Adaption

The Enemy forces – the eponymous Colossus – must be powerful enough to seriously threaten the Blue forces and pose such an overwhelming force that even superheroes wouldn’t dream of confronting them head on. If your heroes are street level scrappers a couple of adequately supported infantry battalions could play this role, while Hyper characters may need dissuaded from a head on confrontation with multiple armoured divisions with entire companies of troops in powered armour and their own super team.

Guiding Hooks

These hooks cover what Gnome Stew slightly awkwardly calls Shepherd adventures which revolves around players taking the role ofleaders, guides, or protectors of a community.” At first glance this seems a fine fit for superheroes as many (maybe even most) iconic superheroes have a particular home city or region of a city they protect – Hell’s Kitchen for Daredevil, Bludhaven for Nightwing, Coast City for Green Lantern, Flash’s Central City …

However, these heroes are often ill trusted by the leaders of their communities and are rarely leaders themselves.  Transitioning into leadership is likely to transform the entire campaign so more so than my other hooks these adventures perhaps work best as entire (perhaps short) campaigns. However, each has some hook for bringing in existing characters if you want to run these as temporary twists to an existing campaign.

Cavlău Castle

Cavlău Castle towers over a once strategically vital corner of the ancestral holdings of one of the player’s families. Although, like most of Odlican’s governance, the official powers of the castle’s steward extend no further than the boundaries of the (admittedly extensive) estates; in practice they are extremely influential in the surrounding villages.

Stewards are expected to attend community fetes and fairs, be updated by the police and local government about any interesting events in the area and not infrequently speak with journalists from the local paper. Recently a player character has been appointed Steward with all the authority (implicit and explicit) that comes with it.

Twist

  1. The character appointed Steward is being tested by their family’s leadership who are considering whether they can be appointed to higher and better titles.
  2. Hidden somewhere on the estate is a buried treasure which routinely attracts eccentrics, serious archaeologists and mercenary supervillains. Although nobody (even Atoshi scions) has managed to find this treasure the lure remains irresistible to many.
  3. As the characters set about their business they find the previous Steward mismanaged the estate and siphoned off funds to secretly fund a criminal conspiracy – including a secret supervillain lair in the dungeon.
  4. The character is being appointed here upon the instigation of a rival of theirs who has learnt that the estate’s fortunes are spiralling towards bankruptcy and is setting them up to fail.

Complications

  1. The castle is poorly maintained and its crumbling structure is a constant challenge and distraction.
  2. A group of activists and journalists campaign against the “neo-feudal” influence of the Steward and seeks to minimise the Steward’s activities beyond the estate itself. Meanwhile a group of terrorists seeks to destroy the castle and devastate the estate with the objective of “liberating Odlican.” Although the two groups are unrelated this is unlikely to be obvious at first.
  3. A major local employer – a cryogenics lab that preserves fresh food – is going out of business and seeks a loan from the Steward. However, the company’s business model is fundamentally flawed (the process is substantially more expensive than just packing in ice for marginal gains). As the players try to figure out a solution one of the employees takes matters into their own hands, steals some equipment and tries to take the town hostage.
  4. A tenant farmer retires and the Steward must decide what to do with the farm: some want a new tenant to take over the farming, environmentalists campaign for rewilding the land and a community group asks for the site to be used for the construction of a new sports centre.
  5. The characters learn that a new Steward is expected to organise a fayre, but the people who would normally have done preparations had recently moved on and nobody had sorted replacements.
  6. An illegitimate child of the previous Steward (possessing the full measure of the family’s powers) seeks to claim the castle as their inheritance.

Adaption

This adventure strongly presupposes aristocratic super beings such as those in the Odlican setting. Characters suddenly inheriting a castle that’s never been mentioned before wouldn’t feel out of place in a strongly Silver or Golden age inspired game, but more serious campaigns may find this harder to justify. Instead of having the characters inherit the castle an NPC (ideally one they have helped before) could inherit the castle, stumble upon clues about either the buried treasure or secret supervillain lair (hooks 2&3) and call upon the pcs to help.

The Town After the Stars

The characters are continuing their every day lives when suddenly there is a flash of light, a smell of pine rapidly replaced by sweat and they find themselves standing in a bizarre, alien landscape. The sky above them is dark and devoid of stars. Around them are great heaps of treasures from a million cultures – golden goblets lie next to mathematical theorems, besides classical paintings, besides a sports car, besides the bones of saints besides artefacts of unclear function from cultures the pcs have not encountered. The only light in this landscape comes from a small village sitting upon one such mountain of treasure.

From the village descends a group of elderly beings who announce that the pcs have been chosen as their new leaders.

Eventually the beings explain that this is the last community left in the universe as it undergoes gradual heat death and they have chosen to be led by some of the greatest beings in history – the pcs.[1] Once the characters’ time in office expires they promise to return them to the past, having not missed a second.

Twist

  1. The pcs were not the only “greatest beings” selected and find several colleagues waiting for them with radically different approaches to solutions – including a ruthless warlord, a a stone age hunter, several mystical religious leaders, a musician and one of their foes from the past.
  2. The pcs were not truly chosen as the greatest leaders in history, but were instead chosen as interesting subjects from history for this community of historians to observe. A score of similar leaders have been summoned in the past and a score more will be called up as the town continues to count down the dark millennia.
  3. While rooting through the records of the past the pcs find evidence of a terrible disaster approaching their home time. However the beings sternly admonish them that they must not intervene in history.
  4. The town is not actually at the end of history and is actually in a pocket dimension where it acts as the personal museum of a cosmic being.

Complications

  1. The characters are in an alien culture filled with customs they are unfamiliar with. On every second day each member of the community dons a mask, before entering a house you must bow thrice – unless it is your own house in which case you bow five times, the community’s most important holiday is Fish-Giving day where people give each other fish … The origins of each tradition are lost in the deeps of time and each individual has a different explanation for its source.
  2. The town maintains a vast, dimensionally transcendental, zoo/arboretum filled with colossal biomes. Unfortunately some of the “dimension engines” start to malfunction and dinosaurs escape to run free across other biomes.
  3. In one of the mounds of treasure they find a stasis chamber in which they find a baby possessed of vast powers. (Think Superboy at a minimum).
  4. Although the community is largely reconciled with their lonely place at the end of history sometimes they need something more festive than Fish-Giving day to lift the spirits.
  5. An ancient evil buried among the treasures awakens.
  6. Pressure grows to launch an expedition back into the infinite darkness in the hope of finding another group of the living.

Adaption

You may wish to adjust this to conform to your cosmology. Instead of a town in the darkness of heat death the town might be a space station hovering over the event horizon of a black hole or an arc riding waves of phoenix fire that remakes the universe.

The nature of the beings who live in the town is left unspecified. They might be humans, or at least what humans evolve into, they might be a coalition of the last survivors of a dozen races, they may be robots and clones or the withered remains of gods.

After the War

Despite the efforts of diplomats and heroes tensions between the first and second worlds escalated until nuclear war reduced much of the world to wasteland.

The characters are among the few survivors but manage to find a community of survivors who would be delighted to have individuals with the characters’ powers and skills as leaders.

Twist

 

  1. This community guards a powerful pre-war artefact- a server containing billions of web pages, a nuclear weapon, etc.
  2. Several members of the community were once some of the politicians and generals responsible for the current state of the world, now living in disguise.
  3. This community is dangerously close to a old chemical plant/nuclear blast crater and its toxic proximity is slowly killing the inhabitants.
  4. Many in this community subscribe to an apocalypse cult whose predictions helped them survive the war, and gives credence to their current demands.

Complications

  1. The community has plenty of shelter from pre war buildings but needs to secure reliable sources of food and water if they are to survive for long.
  2. Waves of sludge swarm towards the town.
  3. The characters must take up the roles of judges and lawmakers as the community faces a rash of thefts from a greedy member of the community. Whatever decision the characters make they latter face a similar decision which further tests their morals and questions the principles they set out in their last decision.
  4. A group of half starved and twitchy nomads stagger into the community and collapse. Clearly each nomad is traumatised by their experiences but their erratic behaviour frightens many members of the community who demand the nomads are kept under house arrest, banished or even killed outright.
  5. Disease sweeps through the community, this is manageable but difficult if the characters have established robust healthcare and sanitation systems and devastating for unprepared settlements.
  6. The Master sends scouting parties out which seek tribute from the community. The characters must defend the community from this dreadful tyrant and her armies.

Adaption

Unless you are running this as a campaign this adventure is best run as a “vision of the future” from some oracular character or a predictive computer. Physical time travel is best avoided here since this implies an option for escape and undermines the mood of bleakness, failure and distracts from ambitions to rebuild.

The Cold War background of this adventure is now a little anachronistic and you may wish to update to modern geo-politics by shifting the start point of the nuclear war to East Asia/the Indian subcontinent or attribute it to neo-nazi terrorists stealing WMDs.

[1] Of course this may come across as somewhat unconvincing but if the players question it they will be assured that their virtues are clear from the perspective of the deep future.