Monday, April 11, 2011

Taking the Edge Off...

I will readily admit my main weakness as a superhero RPG storyteller is that I frequently get stuck in the edgy, late 80s-early 90s style where comics were all grimy, and dirty, and (mostly) just plain boring. Sure, that works for Batman, but it really doesn't work for heroes like Captain America or Thor. I mean, having Dr. Donald Blake strung out on heroin really isn't what people who read Thor on a regular basis want to see. Hell, it really didn't work out for Speedy/Arsenal (Green Arrow's sidekick). Really... did going through that all too human drama truly help the character?

All too frequently, my superhero games readily take on that tone. In the name of “human drama”, I’ll often create a bunch of morally-ambiguous “villains” to throw at my players, and then my players (many of whom are TRYING to be four-color heroes) stare at me with a “what the hell are we supposed to do here?”-look on their faces.

The biggest example of this could be a group of “villains” called the Asylum. Going past some of the jokey names of the members (Dr. X, Lobotomy, EST, the Orderly, and Rubber Room), the leaders of the Asylum have a serious agenda due to tragedies in their own pasts. It is the Asylum’s self-appointed mission to eliminate all producers, providers, and purveyors of child pornography… BRUTALLY. We are talking an over-the-top, no holds barred level of violence that makes the level of gore and viscera displayed in movies like Hostel and Machete seem like day trips to Romper Room.

Now, when facing a group like this, most players are in one of two camps. Either, they want to bring the Asylum in because, at their basest level, the group is a pack of sadistic murderers, or (frequently) the PCs kind of ignore what the Asylum is doing because no one will miss the people the Asylum is killing anyway. I had one player go so far as to track the Asylum down so he could JOIN THEM. (Yes, it resulted in him bringing in a new character).

The Asylum is by no means the only group of NPCs that I have done this with, but it is the group that I do it the most blatantly. That is something I have to work to change. It works well in small doses, but with a steady diet of morality-questioning angst makes a game no fun for players who just want to be heroes…

peace... GopherDave


  1. Yeah, that could be a problem. When it comes down to it, the Asylum sound like a HERO group from that era. ;-) They're essentially vigilantes, only different from the PCs by degree. If they only kill those actually involved, it's easy for the PCs to let them go about their business.

    The Punisher is another example. When he's written to only be taking out mobsters, drug dealers, serial killers and the like, why stop him except for obsession over the law itself over justice? It was when he was doing things like targeting jaywalkers with sniper rifles that he's easier to oppose.

    To make the Asylum easier to deal with, make them more careless. They don't care if innocents are hurt or killed in their attacks, as long as they get the targets too, which gives the PCs reasons to try to stop them. Worse yet, they could kill EVERYONE involved in the production...including the victims.

    My personal pref is the prior decade of comics, more Bronze than Iron. Some moral issues, but you can still tell the heroes from the villains by means other than "it's his book; he's the hero".

  2. :-) Damn, you went way further than my old group... The worst I did was make a character who embodied pretty much every loophole and min/max possible in the system (Hero system, old one)... He ended up being used as a villain by the GM when I left the group...

  3. I don't know if I've run enough sessions of DCA for it to actually be evident, but I'm probably more of a Bronze age guy myself.

    But we'll see if my GM style reflects that as the campaign wears on.