Capes, costumes, secret identities are the common tropes of the superhero genre. But there are people who think that adult men and women clad in skintight spandex suits with masks and fancy capes just look silly. Recent superhero movies have done away with skintight suits in most cases (and replaced them with leather suits for example) and the superhero cartoon “The Incredibles” gave us a lot of arguments why capes are just evil!
So, can you pull of a superhero campaign without some of the most common superhero tropes? Sure. Look at the superheroes TV show “Heroes“. There you have people with incredible powers but no capes, no costumes, no secret identities, no silly names. In my opinion the premise of “Heroes” could make a great base for a superhero campaign.
Most (if not all) characters have the same origin. Let’s just go the X-Men/Heroes route and they all have some genetic mutations that give them super powers. Call them mutants or homo superior, whatever tickles your fancy. Another possible origin could be super powers that are caused by nano bots in the supers’ bloodstream (like in the computer game “Deus Ex”). Whatever it is it should be grounded in natural science. No magic, no aliens, no gods!
Superpowers are real, there are heroes and villains, but the majority of the world has not taken notice of them. Most supers keep their powers secret in fear of being repressed by normals or not to become a guinea pig for ruthless scientists who want to find out the secret of their powers.
- It’s the world as we know it
You don’t need to make changes to the world as we know it. Everything is pretty much the same, there are just a few people starting to dicover their emerging powers. Perhaps add in a secret organization that controls supers (like the Company in “Heroes”)
- Start small
If I would start a Heroes-inspired campaign I would probably use Mutants & Masterminds 2nd Edition. A good starting power level would be around 5 or 6. During the campaign you of course can rise that level as it suits the story.
- Grey is better than white
As we’ve seen in Heroes, most “heroes” have their bad sides. No one is 100% perfect like most Golden Age heroes. The player characters should have some flaws too. Let even the villains have some redeeming qualities.
- Not everyone is super
A PL 5 or 6 campaign should allow you to add people without any super powers to the team. It could be someone like Hiro’s friend Ando or Dr. Suresh, the scientist, who is trying to find and help these special individuals.
The character concept should always be viable without the powers. Nathan Petrelli from Heroes for example was (and still is) a politician first before he even knew about his flying ability, Sylar was a watchmaker, Hiro a corporate employee, Clair Bennett is still going to school. Keep that in mind when you create characters. A superhero that is focused on his super powers alone without any other skills is not recommended for that kind of campaign.