Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Livin' on Marvel Time

Gary Gygax said: “You can not have a meaningful campaign if strict time records are not kept.”

I wonder if that applies to superhero games, too? If so, its a bit difficult to find that strict time-keeping in the source material--at least at Marvel and DC. Both companies long ago adopted de facto “sliding timelines,” and have since enshrined them in company policy, more or less.

For the uninitiated, in the Marvel Universe, this means that the current “heroic era" never gets more than about 10-15 (depending on who you ask) years-old. The Fantastic Four originally got their powers in the sixties. In the Lost Generation limited series in 2000, that event seems to have occurred in the late eighties-early nineties; now, it probably happened around 2000.

Now, the number of events between the beginning of the current age and the ever-advancing now keeps increasing, though the distance between those two points remains constant. Eventually, there'll be a major crossover everyday of Peter Parker’s life since he was 16.

It was not always thus. As George Olshevsky’s Marvel indices show, early Marvel, seemed to follow “real time”, more or less. The reason comics abandon it, like most serial media, was presumably to have evergreen brands.

A superhero rpg campaign doesn’t need brands. There’s no reason why heroes in a Marvel-inspired rpg campaign couldn’t grow old, have children, and retire and make way for the next generation. DC has toyed with this in comics themselves (safely placed on Earth-2, for the most part), but this would be fairly new territory for Marvel.

I’ve run a Mutants & Masterminds campaign based on that premise in the past, constructing a timeline from Olshevsky’s work, and my own collection of date references from comics. I could have saved myself some work, had I discovered the The Wastebasket blog and Tony’s chronology work on what he calls The Original Marvel Universe. Though my conclusions sometimes differ from Tony’s, the detail and analysis he puts into the OMU is great.

I suspect if I ever run that campaign or a similar one again, I’ll find the OMU indisplensible.


Oz said...

I've run several Marvel campaigns over the years. I usually pick a point in continuity to start the campaign, determine how old the NPCs that the PCs are likely to interact with or know about, and then let time progress. I've never had a game go long enough for it to become a real issue... my average campaign runs 2 - 3 years in real world game play which works out to 2 - 5 years in-game time depending on how much jumping there was in between events/sessions.

Tony said...

Hi, thanks for the links! I have to admit that I never thought about the Original Marvel Universe in terms of role-playing games, but if my blog could be a resource to gamers, that would be cool. I'll be the first to say that it is just my interpretation of the stories Marvel published circa 1961~1991, and though I try to back up my take on things with evidence from the text, I'm open to other people reaching other conclusions. The points of ambiguity in the comics are what make it such an interesting project. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

TheGrumpyCelt said...

I've always been more of a DC man than a Marvel man. But I always assumed some stuffed dropped out of even the sliding time line, like Super slapping around Hitler. That it is always very vague the further back you go.

StevenWarble said...

The MC2 Universe from the last decade - Spider-Girl, J2, Avengers Next - was based on the premise that the events of Marvel Universe happened 15-20 years ago, and we were reading the next generation of heroes.

Trey said...

@Oz - That sounds cool. I've never run a campaign long enough for it to matter either, but I tend to like a more "realistic" (at least in terms of time) backdrop.

@Tony - You're welcome. Youve got a great site. Thanks for stopping by.

@GC - Yeah, that stuff tends to fade from the charater's histories after a while.

@StevenWarble - True. That took place in the near future, though didn't it?