January 11, 2011

Superheroes are Fantasy

This is the second of three stream-of-thought articles on the nature of the superhero genre of rpgs.

The superhero genre is a niche market in the rpg community. Despite a setting that allows for play in a modern day setting, it has never been at the forefront of the rpg markets. There are probably a number of factors for this; not the least being that spandex and four color role-play is not considered “cool” enough for the majority of role-players.

I think one of the more subtle reasons for its exclusion from the more popular genres, fantasy and science-fiction, is that it falls into both styles at the same time. Superhero games are usually set in a modern setting and are thus, by default, science fiction. Most super hero settings are one step ahead of our own time frame as far as technology is concerned, with such items as high tech gadgets (web shooters/rocket packs) and weaponry (lasers).

However, at the same time the superhero genre is filled with the fantastical. There are living islands as adversaries. People run around with abilities outside the purview of science fiction. Shooting fire from your hands because you fell into a vat of cooling iron is not based on science, is pure fantasy. Can the villain control the weather with his WDU (Weather Dispersal Unit)? Sounds to me like a weather control spell.

Comic books and superhero rpgs are essentially fantasy games set in the near future.

Now the question is, how does having the knowledge that the superhero genre is actually based on fantasy help us with our superhero games? It allows us to completely open up the type of adventures we run and our sources for adventure ideas.

Have a fantasy module kicking around where the heroes need to fight a necromancer and the zombies he raised in the graveyard? You can twist this into a superhero adventure where the villain is a deranged scientist who can surgically alter the minds of people and create the Lobotomized Legion to do his bidding.

Orcs attacking the village? In the superhero game we have Molemen digging up from beneath the surface in their special machines and raiding gem stores. Why? To build a bigger machine that will penetrate the core of the planet in a misguided belief that their god lives there…only doing so will destabilize the planet enough to destroy Earth!

Xenophobic elves attack all travelers passing through their enchanted woods? Create a new race on the dark side of the moon, underground or in a lost valley hidden in the jungle.

So, embrace the fantasy aspect of the superhero genre and it will open up another world of game design.
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