Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Superhero Scarcity

Less Is More...Is Less

Usually when I start world building for a Supers game, I get to thinking about the other superheroes in the world other than the PCs. Marvel and DC have hundreds of Superhero characters and so do I, so I want the PCs to meet them. Also, other heroes round out the setting and make it feel like you live in a universe.

Unfortunately this can backfire on me. If the PCs are in big trouble they are going to call for reinforcements. Sure the other heroes could be busy but all of them? Think about the Avengers or the Justice League. Not only do they have a dozen or more active members, they are on pretty good terms with the vast majority of the major and minor heroes of their respective universes. If someone drops an Infinite Crisis or Secret War in their laps you can be pretty darn sure everyone from Animal Man and the Teen Titans to Nova to Fantastic Four are getting a phone call.

So when running my current Champions game, it's been quite an effort on my part not to create lots of NPC heroes. A low number of super powered individuals worldwide and a lack of Superheroes compared to Supervillains (Villains outnumber heroes roughly three to one in this setting) creates a very interesting dynamic that has made this game feel quite different from many of the other superhero campaigns I've run. Each hero is more important. Keeping yourself and every one of your allies alive (since the setting is also a tad more deadly then the standard 4-Color Comic Book milieu) is a priority no matter what else is going on.

In the case of our current situation, what do you do when most of your heavy hitters are out of energy/Endurance, the rest are at half power, every body is pretty fatigued and you just found out the mystery villain who set recent troubles in motion is about to show up at location X. I mean, the look on the players faces was awesome. There was this heroic and self sacrificing need to go forward, to nab that bad guy, knowing full well they don't really have the strength to do so. Fantastic.


How do you handle it? Is your Supers universe teeming with heroes or are the players the only game in town? Something inbetween? How does it effect the challenges in the game?

Really curious to see some responses to this.

Barking Alien


  1. I always think the PCs should have room- a gaps that they can fill. Sometimes it is that the key city lacks a real supers presence, sometimes it is that they're in another niche (vigilantes vs. big hitters), and sometimes...actually a lot of times...the group's arriving on the scene after the loss of many heroes for whatever reason.

    I know a couple of GMs in our area have done "Year One" games where the PCs are among the first few heroes, but I haven't done that yet.

  2. In my superhero game, it is silver age set in the 1960s, the player characters are the pretty much only heroes in LA. There are other superteams, but they are in Atlanta and NYC, so not nearby. As time goes on, there will be more heroes, but right now the LA Stars are all that holds back the tide of villain on the west coast.

  3. Very cool.

    It's funny but I've never done the "you guys are the first heroes" thing or the "you guys are the only game in town" thing.

    Usually (although not always) the PCs in my Supers games are new heroes popping up in a world that has a long history of supers. Sometimes (often lately) their introduction is not long after a recent Crisis event that killed off, injured and/or depowered many older heroes.

    There is a little of both these ideas in our Champions game, however, the Champions game setting my friend Will created established the idea that super humans were never as numerous as they seem to be in mainstream comics.

  4. Whenever I run supers, I tend to focus on the PCs. Even if there are bigger heroes and villains, they're not here right now. In one case, I even had the party sent on a mission to rescue the big league heroes in one campaign.

  5. I like that! I've used it once or twice myself. The old Villains & Vigilantes intro module 'Crisis on Crusader Citadel uses that premise.

    I seem to be in the minority in that my world(s) are pretty much chock full of superhero NPCs. The focus is always on the PCs but the reason for that focus isn't always obvious.

    And therein lies my next post! Thanks FDW.

  6. I've always wanted to do a game with a background like Top 10. In their city everybody has some sort of superpower. Everybody. Now most people aren't going to have the most useful powers, or even particularly strong powers. But you never know.

  7. Love that idea. The first season/series of Top 10 was so freaking awesome.