Wednesday, June 24, 2009

(Washington) D.C. Superheroes

So I spent the weekend in New York, and came back with another patch of roleplaying ideas. Last time I went I had some ideas about generating cities using random tables, and I gave a bit more thought to that idea. (Mostly about pregenerating businesses to drop in as necessary.) And I thought some more about hacking together a system to run a cyberpunk campaign. (Perhaps using Basic Roleplaying as a base?) But mostly I got this strange idea about running a superhero game set in Washington D.C., in the early 70s.

Setting a game in the 70s was an idea I'd had while surfing Wikipedia. Specifically, those pages where it lists all the events of importance from a particular year. This struck me as a great way to generate background and color for a historical game, and such a time period would have a number of advantages along those lines, even if I was making some tweaks in the timeline. The 70s in particular appeal to me as a decade because it's outside my personal experience but not remotely distant, the culture is distinctive and recognizable, and the mood contrasts with the current era's in interesting ways.

But I wasn't really sure what kind of game I would really want to run in a the 70s, until I remembered my long-standing interest in running a superheroes game. I put it off for a while because my group didn't seem into it and I wasn't sure what system I'd use, but now I've got enough superhero-obsessed players that I could wrangle the rest into it, and I've done enough research to decide that Mutants & Masterminds would be worth taking for a spin. Washington D.C. is the obvious choice for a home base, seeing as it's close by and I know it fairly well, and particularly the early 70s were an interesting time to be in the city. It also has some persistent institutional dysfunctions that would make it very attractive to crusader-types; this would be right around the dawn of (limited) home rule, and a natural time and place for such personalities to get involved.

After talking with my brother for a while, we decided that brand new superheroes with a street-level focus would be the way to go, and that works very well with both the city and the time period. The players would be one of the first real supergroups to start working together, and they'd take on the various gangs in charge of different parts of the city, all the while dealing with other territorial supers, a suspicious but embattled federal government, and the city government itself. There'd be politics and international goings on happening in the background, but the majority of the action would be based on fighting over control of turf and maybe solving a few of the city's problems along the way.


  1. Groovy. Here's some inspirational music for you.

    The most interesting thing for someone of your generation, I think, would be imagining a world without cellphones or the internet. ;)

  2. For street-level superhero games with a true Old School feel, you can't get much more "street" then Heroes Unlimited. The 2nd edition is pretty good (if you can stomach the Palladium system); the main thing is coming up with a decent setting, which you seem to have.

  3. Sounds cool. You could use trollsmyth as a source for recreating what life was like so long ago in that time period. ~_^

  4. trollsmyth: I see you've grasped the basic principles of the idea. So many possibilities for "setting the mood." ;)

    And no cellphones and internet is one of the big factors in favor of that decade. Most of the other major bits of daily technology that I'm used to are around, except for those obnoxious tension-killing ones.

    JB: I don't have much experience with the Palladium system, though based on what I've heard of it, I'd probably like it. The main reason I'm thinking about Mutants & Masterminds is that it's d20, and my summer group is very experienced with d20 and likes that familiarity, so it'd be a good way to convince the non-supers obsessed people to give it a try. (And the system is philosphically interesting to me, but Palladium's is, too.) On the other hand, if I were to run it for my college group, Heroes Unlimited would be a stronger option. But since they're more open to new systems, there's a lot more in their queue already.

    Dustin: Actually, I was thinking more that this would be based on the media of the 70s, rather than the reality. Mostly because authenticity is not my strong suit anyway.

    If I run this at home, it'll really amuse my parents, once they figure out what I'm doing.

  5. I find this very much of interest, as I'm currently running a historical supers game online, albeit one with a very different tone than what you're proposing (early 60's optimistic 'Silver Age' heroics).

  6. The one thing I'd most recommend about Heroes Unlimited is that it has a lot of awesome random generation tables, which you can parlay into any system you choose.

    If you do end up using HU, bear in mind that you have to do a lot to balance the results of those tables. (Be especially careful of the robots and cyborgs. Don't let them get their mitts on a .50 cal heavy machine gun like I made the mistake of allowing. Bad mojo!)

    I don't mean to gainsay JB, but Heroes Unlimited is sometimes a little too street. I ended up with players preferring to use a shotgun over using their powers, just because it was more effective.

    Having switched a campaign from Heroes Unlimited to Mutants & Masterminds and finding it a vast improvement, I still gotta recommend M&M. (As I said though, I held on to Heroes Unlimited as a great random generator for characters, which I would then stat up in M&M. You can see the results here:

  7. If you're into miniatures you may want to look into these for your 70s gaming..

  8. There was an episode of Remington Steele (this is in the early '80s now) where our hero Steele is with a client in the middle of the city late at night being hunted by assassins. They need to call for help, but the cellphone hasn't been invented yet (we're still a few years away from suitcase-sized cellphones), neither has any pocket change ("jingles and makes too much noise when being sneaky" I think Steele says), and the stores are all closed because, at this time, 7-11 is still only open from 7 AM to 11 PM, which was amazing convenience back then. ;)

    - Brian

  9. @Chris T

    wowsers, those are awesome!

    Boom chikka wow!