My friend Joe messaged me the other day on Facebook and asked if I could get pictures on my cell phone. I told him I could and he told me to get ready and he'd send me something.
Moments later I got a photo of a worn, spiral notebook with a grey cover bearing my fist and last name printed on it in my own handwriting, the title "Villains & Vigilantes" and the year...1984.
Joe Cangelosi and I have been friends since the second grade and much of my early years in the hobby were spent playing over at his house or him at mine. We played D&D, Star Trek (yep, same Joe) and lots of Villains and Vigilantes.
"Do you remember this character...", Joe types to me on Facebook. It was one of his old characters. Yes. Yes I did. Great Scott, after 26 years I did as if I had just run a game with him the day before. Behold what wonders are unearthed when we finally clean up the crap in our closets.
Anyway, ever since he sent me the message and picture I've been thinking about Superhero gaming and why its so hard to pull off effectively these days.
Superheroes is second only to Star Trek on my list of favorite gaming subjects but I fear the genre that I loved to play in is no longer the one I adored in years past. For the last five to ten years, a good number of my Superhero gaming endeavours have gone something like this...
Me: "Hey gang, I'm thinking of running a Superhero campaign."
My Players: "Awesome! We love playing Superheroes."
Me: "Great! Its going to be a classic comic book style game."
My Players: "Got it! No problem! We all love comic books."
Me: "Fantastic. This is going to be sweet! Anyone have any character ideas?"
Player 1: "You bet. I'm a dark, secret agent, killing machine with guns."
Player 1: "I don't wear a costume or a mask, just dark suits and shades."
Player 2: "Ooh yeah! No costume for me either. I'm a time traveller who doesn't work well with others."
Player 3: "My character is a girl...a schoolgirl...and a vampire...like in Anime..."
Me: "I see...so you guys would rather play a World of Darkness / Shadowrun thing...or..."
My Players: "No way. We want to be Superheroes!"
Granted, comic books nowadays cover a much wider range of styles and subjects than they did when V&V and Champions first came out in the late 70's and early 80's. Even the subject of the Superhero has been reimagined by some of the current greats of the industry to include such titles as Kick-Ass, The Ultimates, the Authority and others. Add to this the distinctly different atmospheres found in DC's Vertigo line and in the numerous Manga titles available in the U.S. and you can certainly see the diversity of the medium.
But I didn't I wanted to run the diversity of the medium. I said Classic Comic Book Superheroes. Most of my players are roughly 24 to 40. Most read Marvel and DC comics or at the very least Image titles like Astro City and Invincible (two of my all time favorites). Why is this hard?
Granted, I'm a bit of a purist. I'm a Silver Age-to-Modern DC fan at heart. Yet I'm not asking that the players be that. All I'm asking is for more then 50% of the team to have colorful names and costumes. At least a few should wear masks and have secret identities. Maybe someone could have an origin involving weird radiation. It would also be cool if you didn't try to kill the villains and actually tried to save an innocent life now and then.*
Now its not all doom and gloom on the Superhero gaming front. Last years Mutants & Masterminds game went over pretty well and by and large had the feel I was going for. I guess I have to come to grips with the idea that I am a Silver Age guy and the Silver Age has passed. Here's to the next age...may its luster outshine this one.
*I can't tell you the last time I saw a superhero in a comic book save someone. DC used to be really good about that but these days they are just as bad as Marvel. Apparently being a 'Hero' with special abilities is about kicking the living shit out of other people with special abilities.
**The title of this entry comes from the back cover of the 1982 Second Edition Villains & Vigilantes Rulebook (and the back of the box set). Reading the comic book style 'ad' convinced my friend Martin to go halfsies with me to purchase the game when we were 13.