Fantasy Superheroes

We all know the classic superhero comics. Usually they are set into our modern world and the heroes wear either spandex or leather suits in flashy colors. But why not set a superhero tale into a medieval fantasy world? In a way D&D4E has done it, but a fantasy Mutants & Masterminds campaign comes to mind.

If you look at mythological heroes they usually have special powers not unlike the superheroes from your favorite comic book. I remember that I own a thin X-Men comic book where our heroes are in an illusion created by a villain so that they believe they are living in a medieval city. In that story Storm was some kind of queen and Wolverine a lone mercenary with a large sword. I found the idea intriguing. 

One of my favorite comic series is still Joe Madureira’s Battle Chasers. It’s a shame that it was never completed. The protagonists of that series are all exceptional in their own right, much like modern day superheroes. There’s Gully, a small girl, wears the magic gauntlets of her father, giving her enormous strength, Calibretto a wargolem, Garrison, the famous swordsman, Red Monika, a rather voluptuous thief and Knolan a powerful wizard. This group not only reminded me of a D&D party but also of superhero teams.

So, what do we need to mix the fantasy and superheroes genres?

  • Larger-than-life characters
    Your usual Joe Sixpack fighter will not do. You at least need a special sword, or a magic armor to give your character to rise to superhero levels. Insanely powerful magic items or over-the-top abilities help to give you the four-color-heroes feel.
  • Use comic conventions, not fantasy conventions
    In normal fantasy roleplaying games you start with amateur adventurers that slowly advance to heroes acquiring new abilities and “phat lewt” on their way to the top. In a superhero fantasy game we need powerful characters from the start, so there probably is not much advancement in terms of the characters’ power or gear.
  • Flashy clothes and catchy names
    No, I don’t think spandex suits work well in  a medieval fantasy settings but you should not to clothe your characters in brown linen. Also enormous swords and huge shoulder pads work in MMORPGs and Japanese manga and anime, so why shouldn’t it work in your campaign too?
    Names are also important in the superhero genre. For example a swordsman called Garrison is way cooler than his colleague Bob. And follow Greywulf’s advice and give your party a name!
  • Use a superheroes roleplaying game to run your campaign
    Ok, D&D4E probably works for getting that four-color heroes feel, but why not do it right? Run the campaign using Mutants & Masterminds and allow your players to build PL 10 heroes.
What do you think? Could a “superheroes genre meets fantasy” campaign work? I will definitely play around with that idea. I still have to think something up for next week when I want to introduce two friends into roleplaying. Perhaps some superheroic fantasy could be their thing.
P.S.: Thanks to ChattyDM for giving my creativity a jumpstart over Twitter today and to Greywulf for his excellent superhero-related posts!

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

9 thoughts on “Fantasy Superheroes”

  1. I think this could also work with 4E, with a little reworking of the rules and throwing out some of the balanced issues (like XP and Magic Item tables).

    It's definately an awesome idea and Greywulf's advice really fit the bill.

    <abbr><abbr>Questing GMs last blog post..Word of Wizards – 26/9/2008</abbr></abbr>

  2. Good to see I'm not the only one who's into this idea 😀

    We're considering trying out a PL 6 Mutants & Masterminds D&D. We've run a few successful PL 4 sessions, but think that 4e D&D-style play has bumped things up a notch.

    PL 10? That'll be right into 20th level style D&D and beyond, I reckon 🙂

  3. Excellent post… it suddenly reminded me of Exalted and made me realise I should think of it more in the terms you described rather than worry it's not Fantasy enough…

  4. In an AD&D campaign of 5-6 years ago I played a poet and thespian (using the bard charachter class) who mantained a cowardly and effete persona in public and when needed donned a dark blue 'arabian nights' outfit (complete with face-covering keffiyeh) and became El-Phantazi, the Fantastic one…he was an accomplished swordsman (duelist prestige class) and had a specially crafted figurine of wondrous power who turned into Boraq, his faithful steed gifted with neigh-human intelligence (watch out for the bad pun!).

    It was an unusual idea who made the campaingn fresh and enjoyable for me and the rest of the party (initially the rest of the charachters were unaware of my secret identity…even if their players figured out from the usual comic book lines of reasoning "Why is Rinaldo never around when El Phantazi shows up?"…later, with growing trust and confidence, I did partake my secret with my comrades).
    .-= Kull´s last blog ..WFRP (2nd ed.): Project Eastern Tilea =-.

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