Friday, April 9, 2021

Our Heroic Age

This post first appeared in 2015...

Though we played a lot of fantasy games (mostly AD&D) in my middle and high school years--probably more than anything else--our longest campaigns (defined as the same characters in the same setting/situation) were in superhero games. While we'd played with Villains & Vigilantes and with the first editions of TSR's Marvel Super Heroes and Mayfair's DC Heroes, our "Heroic Age" really got started in '86 after the release of the Marvel Super Heroes Advanced Set.

Our first and longest running team was called the New Champions (taking the name from the L.A. based team of the Bronze Age and the idea of a new iteration from The New Defenders, which had just ended the year before). Our characters were street-level/near street-level characters, some of which were reformed villains. We picked the characters from the pages of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, for the most part, rather than going with well-known characters. I used Paladin, my brother, Puma, and our friend Al, Hobgoblin (the former Jack o' Lantern version). That was the core group of players and characters, but other players and other Bronze and early Modern C-listers joined the New Champions ranks at some point: White Tiger, Madcap, Shroud, and Unicorn, among others I've likely forgotten. The team had a West Coast era (borrowing from West Coast Avengers, which I had a subscription to), as well, and probably at least one "all-new, all different" period--but it was also part of the same continuity.

The second edition of DC Heroes, was probably our last gasp of superhero gaming. The Marvel games had mostly been over the summer and with a crew somewhat different than my usual gaming group, since none of us were able to drive yet and it was tough to get together when we weren't in school. By '89 though, that wasn't the case, so the DC group was largely the same as my Dungeons & Dragons and GURPS crowd. This time, we made up our own characters and our own super-hero universe. Lower key, more "realistic" superheroes were the order of the day. About half of the group (which was never named as a team, really) didn't wear costumes, and the villains were are somewhat quirky, and many of them didn't wear costumes either. I suspect the primary inspiration was the Wild Cards universe, but Thriller, the New Universe, and Doom Patrol might have been in there, too.

We played some 4th edition Champions after that and maybe some GURPS Supers, but neither of them had the ease of use of MSHRPG or DCH so they didn't last long. These two campaigns created some truly memorable characters--or at least memorable sessions.


JB said...

Huh. That’s pretty interesting. Most folks I know who ran supers campaigns (of any substantial length) tended to be fairly loyal to a single system...including my own gaming group. We were MSH and (later) AMSH diehards till our group disbanded circa 1988 (this despite having access to GURPS). The group I got into in high school were all Heroes Unlimited, all the time. In college (a different gang) it was strictly White Wolf stuff. I find it very interesting that your same group tried multiple systems; pretty wild for this times!

Unknown said...

MSH will always be in my top lists of RPGs.
DC RPG Legion sourcebooks were some of the best in the business, and I think Alan Moore helped write the Watchmen or magic one.
It would be cool to see your reviews of the current crop of Supers RPGs.

Dick McGee said...

I've played a lot of supers rpgs over the years, but always avoided the "licensed IP" ones in favor of DIY rules like V&V, Champions, M&M, Golden Heroes, Aberrant, Godlike, etc, etc. Playing in the Marvel or DC universes just never appealed to me as much as creating our own setting. Wasn't even really a fan of sticking to published material for game settings like Aberrant or Godlike, although we'd pull in NPCs from them with different backstories that fit what we were doing better.

I suspect the new Sentinels RPG may see me finally breaking that pattern - their default setting from the card game is one we all seem to enjoy, and it's loose enough to fit all our character concepts comfortably. Won't be sure till this damn pandemic ends though...