Saturday, April 14, 2012

Supers And Their Supporting Cast

As usual, a little sad my last post didn't solicit any comments even as the previous one, which inspired it, did. Oh well. They say timing is everything and perhaps my timing is a bit off with the weekend approaching (and now here as of this writing).

Still and all I think some of the ideas I put forth are worth a look. Please take a gander when you get the chance.

Now then...

One of the under used elements of the Supers genre among many Superhero gamers and GMs (myself included from time to time) is the use of an effective supporting cast in the heroes' costumed and secret identities. In Champions especially, the 'Dependant NPC' Disadvantage is only a disadvantage if the NPC is truly dependant upon the PC. If Lois Lane is never in trouble or even around, Superman has less to worry about and as we all know, that's not as fun.

The problem for me is, more and more, my new and younger players don't really think about plucky reporters, dear old aunts and best buddies who try to figure out their identities. Most are reading Marvel comics where the secret identity and double life traditionally attributed to the superhero is sort of passe'. The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Captain America, Luke Cage and many other Marvel heroes have publicly known 'secret' identities. It doesn't hinder them in the least because their supporting cast, once an important part of the comic book soap opera milieu, now consists primarily of other costumed super beings.

This conversation is not out of the question:

Hawkeye: "I'm worried that if they find out my secret identity, they'll go after my girlfriend."

Spiderman: "Um...dude. You're dating Spiderwoman. She can kick your ass. And mine. And likely theirs who ever 'they' are."

I do have one player, the always awesome Dave, who has an interesting Dependant NPC for his Champions alt character, Silver Sun. Silver Sun adopted a young boy who has evidenced super powers of his own and with the help of the Scaramangler Foundation (a sort of global, non-profit Xavier's School For Gifted Youngers meets the Red Cross), the kid is learning to handle his abilities while Silver Sun learns to handle having a kid.

Again however, the kid has powers. He is not a normal child who has no means of defending himself at all against an attacking supervillain. That dynamic is simply not often as evident as it once was.

Now, as to a supporting cast of Supers and those who can hang with them...

I can create Superhero concepts at the drop of a hat and as such, I tend to. For my Champions campaign I am actually showing a huge amount of restraint, as part of the setting is that the word has considerably less Superheroes than Marvel or DC comics.

New York City for example, often depicted as the mecca of all superhero activity in mainstream comics, has just over a dozen Supers. What I have done is given the team, individually or as a group, the chance to move around and see the rest of the country and even the world. As such, they have forged relationships with Supers from other states and discovered just how hard their jobs can be.

For example, Georgia, former home town of Silver Sun before he moved to New York, is protected by only three other heroes. Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Wyoming appear to share not but a handful of costumed do-gooders between them. This makes each one stand out more and gives the players a reason to not only help but to get to know them. Sometimes they become friends, sometimes they rub each other the wrong way. It makes for good TV as they say.

Finally, taking a cue from current Marvel as well as my old Villains & Vigilantes days, the government agents, SHIELD types and other law enforcement officers and officials round out things nicely as people who can handle themselves but still need to call in the heroes for the big jobs. Here more than anywhere else you get the people who can either love or hate the PCs and NPC heroes in a big way and have enough clout to make things easy or hard for the supers. Some agents are honored to fight beside these gifted individuals. Some would prefer the freaks would stay out of the way and let them do their job. You know the drill.

So those are some of my supporting cast thoughts. Not all of them mind you but enough for an early Saturday morning. No game today as personal stuff takes precedent but back to the fold next week.

Oh and just a quick heads up...June 30th is the next RECESS game event! I'll be there and I hope, if you can, you will too.


Barking Alien


  1. I definitely think that spending too much time with other heroes would tend to limit opportunities for personal drama.

  2. Good post. I try to have at least a few normal people who interact with the heroes in my supers campaign on a regular basis but it can be difficult depending on player desires.

  3. One idea: The dependent can be part of the hero. Think Aladdin and his djinn. In that case, the djinn is the superhero, but the un-powered Aladdin has to be around, or the djinn can't show up to save the day. The old DC Comics hero Johnny Thunder is the same idea. I think this was mentioned in "GURPS Supers," too.

  4. @Doug Wall - It depends. In my Champions campaign one of our players pushed his personal drama forward early on by looking into the background and activities of other (NPC) heroes and how their actions resulted in the current state of the game world. He became more directly involved in the setting but seeing where their stories could interact with his and vice versa. It was pretty awesome actually.

    @seaofstarsrpg - Thank you. Police Chiefs, Detecitives, SHIELD agent types and such make for great 'Normal people who have a reason to be hanging out with the heroes'. So do victims of the crimes the supervillains are committing. The citizens of your fair city can by bystanders, nuisances or vital resources of everything from romance to information to legal troubles depending on where you and your players want to go with the story and campaign style.

    @Andrew D. - I do like that idea a lot. It's rather a specific approach, meaning you're unlikely to find more the one or two such characters in the game but it does allow for some interactions that you don't see in games everyday. Other characters who may share a similar approach might be Johnny Socko and His Giant Robot (aka Giant Robo) or (an idea I've always loved and almost never seen) a hero and his sidekick where the hero is a skilled fighter/detective with a few gadgets and his young ward is a high powered superbeing.

  5. Some of this is a reaction to Killer GM's. I know several people who have issues playing anybody but an antisocial loner orphan after having their DNPC's abused. I also prefer M&M's way of dealing with it to Champions'. In Champions, you get points upfront and you know your DNPC will be threatened every X stories. In M&M, you list it on your sheet and if they become part of the story you get hero points.

    As for other supporting cast, you forgot another couple of categories. Some villains are part of supporting cast. They are usually the petty criminals or the villains with honor. They can be confidential informants, parolees trying to go straight, suppliers of super-equipment, and sometimes allies against even worse villains. And what about people with superpowers who aren't villains or heroes? The superintelligent CEO? The super-strong (but not super-tough) construction worker?

    One concept I had was a superintelligent ex-villain who has gone straight. He's quite personable and he works doing various consulting jobs and charity work (which brings him into contact with superheroes). The only problem is that villains of ordinary intelligence are pulling capers with intricately worked out plans. Plans that are similar to our retired villains' old plans...

  6. @Philo Pharynx - I like! Actually we have quite a bit of that going on in our Champions campaign, which has lead several of my players (who aren't well versed in the game) to ask, "Can you add a Dependant NPC/Hunted/Watched/Rival later in the game?"

    In my house rules that answer is

    In the beginning of the game, at character creation, you can listed Disadvantages such as Hunted for 20 points or Dependant NPC for 15 or whatever, but not specific who they are. As you play the game you can designate NPCs you meet as the fill-ins for those spots.

  7. I do like the NPC-to-be-named-later approach - it let's the group get the feel of the campaign before committing to a particular badguy.

    GURPS also had a good idea in the "ally group" advantage - it's not a dependent NPC or a rival but a group that assists you, like a pirate captain's crew or, conceivably for a lawful hero, the local PD or SHIELD or something similar. In a modern game maybe the media could be an ally of a hero, a particularly powerful ally. Then things might take a turn and it turns into a Hunted or Watched...

  8. Oh, hey! I touched on this very subject in your prior post before I realized you covered it here. NPCs are one of my major go-tos for keeping play hopping.

    Welcome to the Department Of Redundancy Department.

    And if I may digress for a minute, all this talk of NPCs as actual Disadvantages got me thinking of my most successful Champions campaign that ran about 4 years.

    For my group of comic genre fiends, I tried to model teams like the JLA or The Avengers, where you have Thor and Superman running around with Hawkeye and I instituted no points limits.

    Just go crazy--build whatever you want. So I ended up with an 1800 pt Supergirl analog, and a 330 pt Iron Fist-y dude. (Yes, the characters also came with Disads, because that's just how it's done.) And since there was no reason to award XP, "rewards" came in the form of contacts and bases and assorted superheroic trappings.

    Everyone got a chance to shine, even in combat. What a great, great run that was.

  9. How interesting! My current campaign, as I've noted in the past, is based on the greatest campaign I was ever in as a player, my friend Will's nearly 11 year long Champions campaign that ended around '92-93'.

    In that game, characters were built on 150 point plus disads.

    Not 100 points plus 'Up To' 150 disads.
    Not 150 points plus 'Up To' 200 disads.

    150 Base plus as many damn disadvantages as made sense for the character.

    The result was very similar to what you describe with my Superman-Meets-Green Lantern cosmic hero StarGuard teaming up with Pulse, a slower-than-Flash-but-faster-than-Quicksilver speedster with lightning powers and Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu type martial artist.

    We did XP a little differently. If StarGuard took out two dozen Viper Agents he was lucky to get 2 xp. They're cheap goons and he's a force field encased, flying powerhouse. However, if Shang Chi guy took the group out he'd get like 15 points because, damn, that must've been tough to do all by himself. ;)