google-site-verification: googlee8ae134d89e446c0.html Playing Hero World: What are Super Hero RPGs?

Friday, 27 March 2015

What are Super Hero RPGs?

The first in a series of articles designed to get you and your playing group into the Super Hero genre! But before we delve deep in that, by Caesar's Ghost! What are Super Hero RPGs anyway?!

On this first post for Playing Hero World ‘RPG Articles’ section, we will explore the 'why' of playing a RPG of the Supers genre. This post is aimed at beginners to the genre, in particular those who already know or perhaps have even played a RPG before but for some reason never even considered this genre of play. These musings can help veterans think more of the genre or even explain for new comers what is so fun about this particular genre. Even so, we try to explain every concept  of established IPs and other games in the text, so even total newbies will be able to follow, hopefully with no trouble at all.

Welcome to the Multiverse

Before we begin exploring the multitude of worlds that are contained within the Super Hero genre we must first understand what makes RPGs so fun, so desirable, so pleasant in the first place.. The act of playing a RPG game can be a moment to stay with your friends and build bonds through playable stories, be them absurd, strange or realistic and everything in between and beyond. Some RPG groups however are only acquaintances, or even strangers. So while there is the ‘friends playing stories together’ angle, this can’t be the only reason to pick up an RPG game.

So then, how does one ‘play’ a story? The RPG systems (the thing that gives rules to the game among other things. And yes there are many of them, for all kinds of genres) are like blocks that help structure an interesting narrative and when/if players are up for it, this combination of ‘story’ and ‘game system’ can make ‘miracles’ occur. Not on our world of flesh and bone but in the world of words and imagination that is created when a group plays a role playing game together.
Anyway, I will argue that one plays a RPG game because it's fun 'to play' stories in which there are several point of views and interpretation while having the element of the unexpected (brought in by the rules that govern the gaming system of choice).  It becomes a game that feeds itself over the player's imagination and willingness of exploring ideas no matter how different or distant they might seen at first. The way doing so is having a ‘referee’ that keeps the ‘narrative universe’ in check following the rules and even creating/removing rules from the Game System as the game develops while other players play the role of a particular character either assigned or even created by then to interact with said narrative and universe.
That is the charm of Roleplaying Games, or at least this is why this blogs believes it to be. The folks at Learn tabletop RPGs have  a more in depth insight over these matters, so if there is still some confusion that’s a good link to check it out.

Enter the Hipercrisis

All right let's say the last paragraphs have in some way resonated with you, dear reader. Even if just a little, even if only a small part of it is something you can agree then we can move on to what is a game of the Supers genre.

When you roleplay a character in say, Dungeons & Dragon (any edition really...Ok Perhaps for the sake of clarity let's talk about the Fifth edition here) you have several things to take in consideration. For instance, what are the other characters in the group? What does the Dungeon Master wishes to run (A political intrigue adventure? A Dungeon crawl? Etc.)? What would I like to play in said context? How to give your character a personal touch to truly make it 'yours'? Or perhaps you just whip out a very simple character from one of the many classes of the game and be done with it, since you are only there to throw some dice and watch some Orcs to fall down to the floor.  A fine way of playing like any other.

But in many ways your character potential and how he interacts with said word is married into the D&D 5th edition system as well what is expected and asked from their class on top of the traditions crafted into the Fantasy genre. This is not exactly bad, this limitation allows for great creativity and gives consistency to the tone of the game the Dungeon Master is trying to play as well a slate to allow players to create specific and functional characters.

Super Hero RPGs have by tradition no such borders. 
From Superhero 2044 all the way to the newest Icons incarnation we see that part of the character creation and how the players interact with the world to not have such rigid system of classes or even expectations. The actual super hero genre ate up all short of sub genres and this calls for your modern Super Hero RPG game to be as flexible as possible on how players create their characters and how they interact with the game world narrative the 'Dungeon Master' is setting them up. On top of that, said systems often follow several tropes of the genre like the fact progression is limited or at least ‘vertical’ (as in your character power is evolving, like it does in D&D) progression is limited. If a character evolves either it learns how to do more things instead of getting better at what he already excels. This changes how your typical RPG player plays a Supers game because progression is a no-brainer, a given to many other genres. However this might be the biggest feature and reason to actually play a Super Hero RPG.

Yes even Spider-man
started as a 'rookie hero'

For you are not playing a rookie adventurer, you are playing at ‘worst’ a rookie Super Hero. As the name implies your character is above the curve, he is beyond the 'normal'. However the very idea of what is 'normal' and what is 'beyond normal' is set by the game master and the players. Some systems have a more abstract ways on how to weight on super powers for instance, like Mutants & Masterminds or Icons so this is something the playing group needs to decide as they build their character and their adventures. 
The good news is because of how flexible the genre is the infinity of space, the elegant past, the medieval fantasy, the near future and many other settings can be used to play said Super Hero games without a hitch. So the mentality of doing away with restrictions is something that can be found on the setting and adventure as well, something that D&D would struggle with for instance even if there are very unique settings such as Planescape or Ravenloft. By the end of the day, these are modifications to the core D&D experience, while this vast settings for the Super Hero game are all in a way 'supported' from the get go, no need to adapt the system for it since the players will interact with said setting the same way they would: By using their power characteristics and their character skills with a side of melodrama and iconic posturing.

Having a Super Villain choking up the party helps too!
This makes Space, Time and even Myth, 'hooks' for a Super Hero experience! A creative game master could easily put the players into Arthurian Camelot in one session and in a high tech moon base over the next. This freedom of creativity is quite refreshing but also has it's own sets of pitfalls and problems.

Exploring Infinity

The biggest issue that shows up for those who have more familiarity in hunting Dragons and other fantasy creatures would probably be like: What about tone? How about balance? And how are adventures structured? Or the ever illusive “When do we get to wrestle some dinosaurs”?
Freedom in a imagination based game often leads to something formless. It must be shaped.
Just because the Super Hero rpg allows to so many archetypes and settings does not mean they all co-exist in some chaos, even if the player characters are hoping through dimensions in a weekly base.
It's up to the Game Master to set up said tone, to sit down and discuss with the players what is Super, what bases to touch, how to deal with said super powers. It makes the Game Master to take the system and make it his own. Even this is something that happens in pretty much all RPGs, in Super Heroes it's a matter of having a consistent campaign. You can easily set up a D&D adventure and rely in popular fantasy troupes to guide expectation for your players, but since ‘super powers’, ‘justice’, ‘hope’ and ‘iconography’ can be a bit more open ended and subjective, the referee/game master must set the record straight if he so wishes to have a consistent campaign. 

A Super Hero RPG it's all about genre play, all about freedom and all about interacting with the setting through your character powers and quirks. Nothing too much different from your typical D&D, but considering the quirks are often more exaggerated and the powers would rival of a level 30 character since the first session, the way said interactions work are fundamentally different. You aren't playing a story that will take you from Zero to Hero, but one about what happens once you are the Hero, and what challenges and problems arise from this.
But why play this? Isn't the progression one of the reasons for playing a roleplaying game?
Because of all you get from it. It's a genre about contrast between the arcane, the complex mythologies of strange beings in primary colors and simplistic names. It's the definition of Iconic. Playing with symbols of power and putting them in an environment like a RPG is liberating! You can feel the creative energy coming from players who understand the genre and the potential it has for fun storytelling.

And said energy and absurdity that comes from the Super Hero genre is the main reason one should play a Super Hero RPG. While D&D and similar games are about the adventurer from being a nobody to the hero of the realm, the Supers game is about incredible characters that can make miracles facing impossible odds with incredible consequences since the first session.
The progress then is how the heroes shape the world they keep on saving from these doomsday scenarios. New characters will show up every new session and the outlook for the playing group will be constantly shifting. In the end, when every player character is Super, when their power is supreme, then what is left if not to explore their condition over this colorful word? There is no rush for XP here, no desire at ‘getting better’. All there is left is the setting and the players are the big guns. How will they shape the game world? Now this is something worth playing to find out. The humanity of demi-gods versus a world that bows towards them – Or against them.
And Nazi-Dinosaurs. Nazi-Dinosaurs are worth the entrance ticket for a Super Hero RPG
For the follow up article, we will have an in depth look at the anatomy of a Super Hero game, how to set up your own and how to get players excited for it. Don't miss it!

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