Sunday, March 28, 2021

Cinematic Superhero Rpg Universes

While we may be past the era of "peak television," we seem to be entering the era of peak superhero TV. The CW and HBOMax have got new DC shows, and Disney+ has the latest Marvel offerings. Then there's a few other things on Amazon Prime like The Boys and Invincible. The superhero dominance of the box office got put on hiatus by the pandemic, but it has gone on long enough now to get backlash.

All of this makes me wonder when we'll get a superhero rpg with more of a cinematic vibe, much in the the same way we got a number of rpgs with a "animated series" aesthetic (some of that could be pragmatic, though. There may be more artists able to do a cartoony style willing to work at rpg rates). Of course, you don't have to want for a new game to run a cinematic style campaign. You could even reboot an old campaign in a cinematic version.

What would "cinematic superhero universe" mean in a rpg context? I haven't really fully formulated an answer to that but their are some traits I can think of:

  • Fewer superhumans (though they are getting more all the time!), particularly villains
  • Lower power levels (in general), but...
  • Fewer "skilled normal" masked heroes. (Captain America seems super-strong in the CMU; Falcon as more gadgets)
  • Fewer secret identities, fewer masks
  • Less colorful costumes
  • A smaller array of possible origins
  • Heroes more likely to engage in potentially lethal action
In general, cinematic universe changes seem similar to "ultimate universe" changes. They are more "realistic" versions of the characters.


Dick McGee said...

Hmmm. White Wolf's Aberrant fulfills most of those expectations, although it also leans heavily into the "supers as celebrities" trope as well, something we haven't seen a ton of in the recent crop of tv/film supers.

Magpie Games' Masks also fits pretty well, although it generally doesn't go heavy on the "killer hero" thing in the last point. It'd certainly work fine for a "coming of age superhero story" ala (say) TV's Smallville or comics' Invincible (which was very, very deadly indeed).

Mutant City Blues would work for a "cinematic" game with a police procedural/cop show/crime drama vibe, which we're probably overdue for in actual film/tv.

And as you said, any system could be tweaked to fit the tropes of existing shows and films easily enough, with the possible exception of teh new Sentinels RPG from Greater Than Games. That one is very four-color indeed.

JB said...

I've been thinking about this idea a lot lately myself. There's a lot I'd like to say on the subject, but I don't have time on the moment. Thanks for bringing it up.