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ronpyatt
05-17-2010, 11:58 AM
The costume does not a hero make.

Any particular men/women/others-in-tights genre could be a superhero or something else. Comicbook superheroes have been around for a long time when compared to our lifetimes, and tights have been around for a lot longer, but not for as long as when the first superhero stories were being told.

When I was a teen, I got to play in modern superhero games where the men got to strut around as if they were not wearing red underwear outside their blue tights, but the stories I play now have evolved a little bit since then. The setting, characters, plot devices, and circumstances that put PC's in heroic situations play a big roll, but, ultimately, it's the players that end up playing their characters with their own motivations: money, fame, power, love, fear, faith, revenge, desire, duty, junky, etc.

If you have non-heroic super types, you can sometimes bring PC's around to reluctant heroes, or metagame players into doing what they're supposed to, but if you force them into good aligned heroes-in-tights you might end up with a less pleasant game.

Supers games don't have to be heroic to be fun, and sometimes setting up that sort of arbitrary limitation can make a GM's job easier, but it can also make for fewer gaming options, especially if the players are not amenable to those setting tropes.

Superhero genres do not often translate well into other superhero games. The games/genres are different in the flavor based on the time, be it modern, classical, classic, mythic, gritty, anti-heroic, and, as often is the case, the overall superhero genre is mixed with a large quantity of other genres, but superhero genres don't have to be mixed genres. Then there are game mechanics, even universal mechanics, which often do not lend themselves to translating characters from one game to the next.

Generically, super-settings are often based on the possibilities the characters bring to the game. For example, I might create a transdimensional sentient cold flame based character ignorant of earth customs, which would not fit in a supers world that had no extra-dimensions, but it might prompt the GM to make an exception or change the setting to include extra-dimensions or ask for a tweak to the PC to conform to the setting. Your game might focus on good guys vs. bad guys flying around doing the deeds that need doing, but someone else's game might focus on saving the world regardless of good or bad.

I know a Vampire game that has been described as supers-with-fangs. I've played in a wizards game that was simply supers-with-spells and another that was supers-psionics, and these would be very hard pressed to lend themselves to other genres. I've played a popular fantasy game where the DM equipped our characters with items far beyond those of mortal men in order to defeat foes that were out to destroy the world, thus turning a regular fantasy game into a flying cosmic multi-dimensional superhero campaign.

Like other genres, a supers game is a superhero setting depending on how you view the genre and setting. The same holds true for fantasy, science fiction, horror, and even westerns. A narrowly focused superhero setting is just that; focused. However, there are more than just a few superhero settings.

What do you think qualifies as a superhero genre or setting?

LAST CRUSADER
05-17-2010, 03:06 PM
Even if I were to look at just the Marvel and DC universes Or even just one of the 2, the game would clearly be set in a cross time multiverse where practically anything can show up. My own game is set in a universe not too different from either of those. About the only limit I impose on my players is what I personally find distatesful. The rules of the genre which define my game setting spell out what the world around the players is like, The players will make thier own place in it. I don't allow players to be villains or anything that is inheritly evil because I personally find that distasteful and I wouldn't know how to run a game where the players were villains. But villains are certainly a big part of the setting. I have one players who's always wanting to be half vampire or half demon and I let him because dispite the source of the character's power he's still half human which in my view is really all human, because he has free will.

There are in every superhero world many non traditional characters who don't fit the mold. As I hinted above, the rules of a genre describe the setting they do not aply equally to ever character in that setting and that is true of every genre there is. So it's much more true of a genre as diverse as superheroes. So what are these rules that define the superhero genre and set it apart from all other genres ?
1) The primary focus of the multiverse is the present day Earth even though the universe certainly has a past and a future and there are many other planets, and dimentions where stories are sometimes set.
2) People who have near death experiences often walk away filled with special powers or at least a sense of purpose that sets them appart from normal humanty and begins a life of adventure.
3) Although not everyone with powers wears a costume, some do, and no one thinks it's strange that they do. Even if they make fun of a particularly bad costume. OK, if superheroes are something new, in this particular universe, some people might think costumes are strange, at first ,but they get used to the idea and stop questioning it pretty soon.
4) most of the super powered beings operate with a degree of secrecy, (which is usually the reason for the costumes) but in the words of Green Arrow "It's a loud kinda mysterious".
5) Science works when it's convenient and is ignored when it's not.
6) Villains keep comming back, sometimes even when you thought they were dead.
7) When the heroes loose a fight the villains almost never kill them. Heroes and villains are both pretty good at escaping.
8) The government isn't capable of controling super villains, and monsters without the help of superheroes

If you follow these 8 rules you have a superhero universe. If you don't you have something else that might be similar in a lot of ways but it's just not the same thing.

---------- Post added at 03:06 PM ---------- Previous post was at 02:55 PM ----------

Hey thanks for this thread, I enjoied reading what you wrote and had a lot of fun answering you.

jpatterson
05-17-2010, 03:29 PM
Superhero setting? In a purely physical and practical viewpoint, a resilient world and at least two opposed forces capable of testing the limits of that resiliency.

Philosophically, I'd agree with practically anything anybody writes because I think what defines a genre at its most basic level is the obvious minimal components that have very little variation (loud costumes, superpowers, etc) but past that, it's up in the air, like religion.

The recent graphic-novel-based movie Watchmen was definitely superhero in literal name, they had super powers, they saved people... mostly... but their attitudes, overall... and some specifically? More psychotic than Batman and Wolverine put together. Gritty doesn't begin to cover them. And Mystery Men the spoof movie? And Kick-Ass? Kids wandering around killing people? But back to pulp era - the Phantom? The Shadow? The original Batman? Superheroes? How about the Punisher? These are the blurred lines that LC probably doesn't like and I'm not too keen on them either in some ways.

I think for me Superhero is a catch-all that includes everything, but not everything is Superhero, in and of itself. You can have Batman or the Punisher doing something in a Superhero universe where other superheros exist, and it's part of the Superhero genre, but in a comic book, movie or game JUST about one of those, they're just gritty heroes with exceptional abilities - they're not superheroes, in my opinion.

I also agree one of the worst things is to try to shoehorn players into the role of a do-gooder if they're not willing to play one. That's partly the GM's fault, partly the players. The GM needs to say "I want to run a superhero game where everybody plays typical justice-minded eat-your-vegetables good guys" and any confusion or discussions can be hammered out right there before he puts any effort into it. Players should say things like "I want to play Wolverine/Lobo/Deadpool/Batman/Punisher, etc." if they're wanting to play someone likely not quite in line with what the GM was intending. If it turns out there can't be a compromise, the GM can find out if the game is doable, if the majority of the players don't want to play a goody-goody team, he needs to run something else or adjust his hero makeup idea, or if everyone but the one guy is on-board, the one player either needs to decide it's just a game and go along with it for the ride good-naturedly, or equally good-naturedly sit the game out.

LAST CRUSADER
05-17-2010, 03:59 PM
Personally I've never concidered the Punisher to be a superhero even though he clearly lives in a superhero universe. I can say the same for Lobo, Can't really define why but Wolverine is different. Partly because he's on a team, and partly because his overly brutal nature can be seen as a side effect of his powers, and animal instincts. A disadvantage more than a choice.
But as I said, The rules of a genre describe the world not every character in the world. Lois Lane doesn't act like a superhero either.

By the way, I don't understand why I keep seeing references to someone trying to force players to act a certain way. No one has suggested doing that. Players are free to play or not. and no one player or GM should have to play a game he doesn't like. I'm just saying don't call yourself a superhero if you don't act like one.

Utgardloki
08-14-2010, 05:19 PM
I would define a superhero campaign as one where the PCs and major NPCs have abilities that are not available to "just anybody", but are reserved for certain people. Thus a good vampire would be a "superhero" because most people just can't do that, while my proposed "Third Legion" campaign, despite being inspired by DC's Legion of Super-Heroes, and involving PCs who have great powers and wear special uniforms would not, because my Third Legion setting is so far in the future that anybody who wants superpowers can have them by buying the appropriate nano-cyber enhancements and training to use them.

However, there are a number of tropes which may or may not be present in a particular campaign. Some important ones, and possible justifications I've considered, are:

1. Characters with powers beyond those possible for most NPCs. Perhaps this is genetic capability, alien origin, favor of the gods, or just "we don't know". For a potential Lunar Champions game I've been considering, the story is that a fraction of a percent of humans who colonize the moon develop psionic powers. Why those and not others is not yet known.

2. Characters with spectacular costumes. In my mind, the costumes are a large part of the genre. With them you have superheroes. Without them, you have something like Angel. For a potential Lunar Champions game, I've devised organizations that employ and register costumes as trademarks so people can identify them. (The ability to identify a superhero is also an explanation given in the DC universe.)

3. Characters with secret identities. I've long been considering the possibility of a "super shaman" type whose powers are tied into the costume and identity and mask -- the idea is that it is by establishing two identities that the character is capable of superior feats.

4. Interdimensional Visitation. In many supers settings, it is quite common to travel to universes that are different. In my proposed Lunar Champions game, they've discovered gateways to a "fantasy" universe called Utgard. In the DC universe, this is so common I'm surprised they don't have tourists yet.

5. Good vs Evil. Superheroes are very very good. Supervillians are evil, but usually don't kill their enemies. I think the best supervillians have explanations for why they do what they do, that they are not "evil" but merely "differentially ethical". Magneto wants security for mutants. Poison Ivy is interested in ecological issues. Lex Luthor sees Superman as an alien menace who has to be destroyed. Good villians are hard to find.

6. Technology is usually beyond what is available in the historical setting. Modern superhero games have people with lasers and flying jet platforms. World War II games have all manner of improbably devices, especially mad scientists with huge machines that control the weather or generate earthquakes. Of course, they can't be reliably produced, because they don't follow an ISO-9000 process.

7. Subtle alterations of the world. Superheroes often live in cities that don't exist in our alternate history. Superman lives in New York City. Champions has defined their own set of cities. For a proposed "4E Modern" game I've thought of, I was going to move one of Champion's cities from Florida to Wisconsin, and have the PCs in a major metropolis a few miles east of Green Bay.

I am all in favor of mixing and matching tropes to get something that makes sense:

I've thought about a fantasy setting where, instead of painting shields, they paint knights' armor to indicate who they are. Then as that world progressed and armor became obsolete, the painted armor was replaced with distinctively-colored clothing in the same patterns.

My Lunar Champions idea is based on seeing which supers tropes would make sense given specific circumstances: while "superhero" costumes exist, most superhero costumes are actually armor and no superhero would _not_ wear armor without a good reason such as invulnerability. Thus there are very few scantily clad superheroines in this setting.

My 4E Modern does not necessarily have the costumes, and advanced technology (beyond what current science can produce) is pretty much non-existent. I've been thinking, however of ways to employ my "masked shaman" idea. I've also thought of employing a "masked shaman" idea to an alternate history setting in the 1830s.

fmitchell
08-15-2010, 09:06 AM
2. Characters with spectacular costumes. In my mind, the costumes are a large part of the genre. With them you have superheroes. Without them, you have something like Angel. For a potential Lunar Champions game, I've devised organizations that employ and register costumes as trademarks so people can identify them. (The ability to identify a superhero is also an explanation given in the DC universe.)

This trope I find the most off-putting. Standard uniforms and insignia make a lot of sense, but underwear on the outside and garish colors don't.

A paramilitary unit should dress like soldiers; a vigilante would wear either stylized armor (something like the movie Batman), a profoundly intimidating getup (e.g. Batman again, or V), or some light disguise that converts easily to inconspicuous street clothes. Even better, maybe using the superpower is its own disguise: the aura of a power ring, a dramatic physical transformation (not just taking off one's glasses), a mask that grants powers, and so forth.

I much prefer the movie X-men costumes to the comic ones: a self-respecting tough guy would not wear bright yellow spandex.

Utgardloki
08-15-2010, 11:09 AM
That was a great line in the X-Men movie: "What did you expect? Yellow spandex?"

But I guess tastes differ. There is nothing wrong with _Angel_ or _Buffy the Vampire Slayer_ or _Smallville_, et cetera. (Well, from an RPG standpoint there is, but it is not the clothes, and it is easily fixed -- these shows all have too much emphasis on just one super-powered character while an RPG needs an entire team, but as I said this is easily fixed for an RPG.)

But I do like the costumes, and if I can find a reason for the trope I will. My "Lunar Champions" idea has decorated armor, so that's not "underwear on the outside". My "Third Legion" has uniforms similar to Star Trek, the Next Generation, except that high ranking officers wear their own clothes, like in _Barney Miller_.

But on my other hand, my proposed "Plausible Deniability" campaign has a "no capes" rule, because the point of the campaign is that the PCs have "plausible deniability". This campaign is based on all the old 70s TV shows, however, so there are a few heroes in costumes -- Wonder Woman, Electra-Woman and Dyna Girl, Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, Captain Marvel and Isis. But they are all awash in rumor as to whether they really exist, or whether they really have super powers or if it is all just publicity. PCs in this setting are not allowed to have such costumes because they are working for an organization that wishes to keep a lower profile.

Ken_Yew
01-10-2012, 12:23 AM
In my supers campaign, capes exist as mostly corporate PR tools. Sort of like the comic series "The Boys". There is a standard way for super-people to be manufactured through a gene-modification process, but the PC's get their powers accidentally. They are then thrust into this nether world where they use their powers for good and are hounded by the powers that be as a dangerous uncontrollable entity. Some do wear costumes and have secret identities but in that case they have a good reason to protect their identities.

Golden Age Superhero
05-11-2012, 02:34 PM
Superhero setting? In a purely physical and practical viewpoint, a resilient world and at least two opposed forces capable of testing the limits of that resiliency.

Philosophically, I'd agree with practically anything anybody writes because I think what defines a genre at its most basic level is the obvious minimal components that have very little variation (loud costumes, superpowers, etc) but past that, it's up in the air, like religion.

The recent graphic-novel-based movie Watchmen was definitely superhero in literal name, they had super powers, they saved people... mostly... but their attitudes, overall... and some specifically? More psychotic than Batman and Wolverine put together. Gritty doesn't begin to cover them. And Mystery Men the spoof movie? And Kick-Ass? Kids wandering around killing people? But back to pulp era - the Phantom? The Shadow? The original Batman? Superheroes? How about the Punisher? These are the blurred lines that LC probably doesn't like and I'm not too keen on them either in some ways.

I think for me Superhero is a catch-all that includes everything, but not everything is Superhero, in and of itself. You can have Batman or the Punisher doing something in a Superhero universe where other superheros exist, and it's part of the Superhero genre, but in a comic book, movie or game JUST about one of those, they're just gritty heroes with exceptional abilities - they're not superheroes, in my opinion.

I also agree one of the worst things is to try to shoehorn players into the role of a do-gooder if they're not willing to play one. That's partly the GM's fault, partly the players. The GM needs to say "I want to run a superhero game where everybody plays typical justice-minded eat-your-vegetables good guys" and any confusion or discussions can be hammered out right there before he puts any effort into it. Players should say things like "I want to play Wolverine/Lobo/Deadpool/Batman/Punisher, etc." if they're wanting to play someone likely not quite in line with what the GM was intending. If it turns out there can't be a compromise, the GM can find out if the game is doable, if the majority of the players don't want to play a goody-goody team, he needs to run something else or adjust his hero makeup idea, or if everyone but the one guy is on-board, the one player either needs to decide it's just a game and go along with it for the ride good-naturedly, or equally good-naturedly sit the game out.

I think that communicating like this is important in any campaign but definitely important in a superhero game. Many people have different ideas about what is a superhero and what heroic is. Many people that I have encountered that don't like superhero games think that they have to play boy scout types and anything that doesn't resemble an episode of the Superfriends or the Tick is not a superhero game.

magic-rhyme
08-09-2013, 01:19 AM
I always insist upon tights-and-capes in my superhero games. (Not my superpunk games, my superHERO games.)

Why? Well, I could give a lot of historic reasons and a lot of reasons involving respect for the genre, but after reading the OP's anti-tights manifesto, I doubt those reasons would mean anything to the OP.

So instead I give two very pragmatic reasons:


1st, it gets players into the mood for a superhero game. A classic superhero campaign without tights and capes is like a classic pirate campaign without a ship or skull-and-crossbones flag or a classic cowboy campaign without horses and cowboy hats or a classic Star Trek campaign without a starship, idealism, and the occasional god-race. Tights and capes and other such traditions ensure players get into the mood.

(That doesn't mean a talented gaming group couldn't run a fun campaign of pirates who never get near an ocean or an exciting campaign of assassins for the United Federation of Planets; however, neither of those would be a classic version, and sometimes a person becomes tired of the hackneyed obligation to play every single campaign as "something totally unlike" the source material. Sometimes, I want to play a cowboy with a six-shooter, a horse, and a range war with other ranchs over the local water supply instead of a postmodern deconstruction of the genre.)


2nd, it makes a great player litmus test -- it lets me know whether these are people who are willing to play in a classic superhero campaign. Any player who freaks out over the idea of tights and capes is not going to play well in a classic superhero campaign; he's going to freak out the first time The Batman puts The Joker in Arkham instead of murdering him, and he's going to freak out the first time Superman uses superbreath or Mr. Fantastic stretches his nose out when he's sniffing something mysterious in the air, and he's going to freak out the moment Thor uses the word "thou" or Captain Marvel shouts "Shazam!" or Luke Cage/Power Man uses one of his catch-phrase euphemisms instead of filling the air with NC-17 cussing.

He's also going to miss how serious such tights-and-capes campaigns can be, just as the tights and cape did not diminish the sadness of Supergirl's death in the Crisis mini-series, the spandex did not diminish Jean Grey's original sacrifice in the Dark Phoenix saga, the tights and bright colors did not ruin the sad Death of Captain Mar-Vell or render the death of Gwen Stacey silly or make light of the crippling of Batgirl Barbara Gordon in the Killing Joke.

Sure, the player who freaks out over tights and capes might be able to play in a campaign of superpowered punks or superpowered mercenaries, but if he can't handle playing in a classic superhero campaign, then he's either going to be miserable in my classic superhero campaign or he's going to do his best (perhaps unconsciously) to conquer the campaign and remake it into a superpowered punks or superpowered mercenaries campaign -- and changing a campaign like that isn't fair to the players or game master who had signed up for a classic superhero campaign and who had wanted to play in a serious classic superhero campaign.

I have run successful superpowered punk campaigns several times before. I have run dark superpowers campaigns inspired by the Watchman limited series and by Vertigo comic book series. But I also enjoy running classic superhero campaigns, and when I run a classic superhero campaign, I want to run it with players who want to play in that kind of campaign. Setting up front the requirement for the tights and capes makes a great gateway to ensure I don't run any players who will end up accidentally sabotaging the campaign with their inability to get into the spirit of it.

I would rather not have that player in the campaign, and if I am being forced to mutiliate my classic superhero campaign into some other kind of campaign, I'd rather not run a campaign at all. (Since I'm one of the few decent game masters in my area and therefore never allowed to be a player, I think I should be allowed to have a bit of say in what campaigns I run, and sometimes what I want to run is a classic superhero campaign.)

This has worked for me every time. I have run eight long-lasting classic superhero campaigns over the past twenty years, and every time, the players who were originally uncertain about it were able to get into the spirit of it once I told them that I was enforcing the tights-and-capes rule and then explained my reasons why.

http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/showthread.php/22400-the-thoughtlessness-of-the-anti-tights-people-in-superhero-gaming

Of those eight, several of them included players who refused to play in a campaign with tights-and-capes and declined to play in that particular campaign. In every case, the players would hear about how much fun their friends were having, come to me, and ask me whether it was too late to join after all. In each case, I asked them if they really wanted to play in this particular campaign, with tights and capes and everything, and they always answered they did, now that they had heard stories about what happened in the game sessions and realized they had been freaking out about nothing. With only one exception, the originally-reluctant players were able to get into the spirit and enjoy playing in a classic superhero campaign, tights and capes and battle cries and all. Some of them even began collecting superhero comic books afterwards.

None of that would have been possible had I been too busy pandering instead of insisting upon capes and tights and explaining my reasons with my players.

nijineko
09-11-2013, 03:18 PM
now that i reread this i remember why i was avoiding posting in this thread. heheheh. and then i go and post in the other thread. =P silly me. well, since i've stepped into it anyhow, i'll recap a few thoughts.

it is possible to enjoy and love superheroes with or without tights and capes. i think, however, that it might be justified in borrowing from the comics world and segregating such views into golden, silver, bronze, and iron ages.

the classic superhero world (golden and silver) represents an important era in human history and consciousness. it embodied certain elements and attributes which should not be lost from the human paradigm, and should always be kept in mind.

the more recent super powered worlds (bronze and iron) have new paradigms which have different values and ideals, but may still have usefulness, and irrespective of relative merit or from which viewpoint one prefers, do represent other aspects of humanity, which should also be kept in mind one way or another.



i hope that we can carefully consider the merits and values represented by each others viewpoint, even if there is a decision to disagree in the end.

magic-rhyme
03-20-2014, 05:44 AM
i hope that we can carefully consider the merits and values represented by each others viewpoint, even if there is a decision to disagree in the end.

And that is what the vast majority of anti-capes and anti-tights people stubbornly refuse to do: carefully consider. They also aren't very good about accepting any viewpoint other than their own.


it is possible to enjoy and love superheroes with or without tights and capes

Of course!

But whether one's dislike comes from intelligent consideration based in an educated, thoughtful perspective or comes from a mindless impulse based in a lazily ignorant, smugly irrational perspective or pandering is a crucial difference.

magic-rhyme
03-20-2014, 05:59 AM
Nijineko, while browsing through some older threads I came across something you wrote about favorite superheroes.

You wrote about how much it disappointed you when you came across a superhero comic book story -- or a superhero roleplaying game session -- in which women were treated as essentially worthless decorations or as stereotypical sex objects who exist only for mindless heterosexual male fantasies.

If a person thinks about it, it becomes quite clear that the stereotyping and sexualization of female superheroes and the kneejerk sort of hatred of capes and trunks-over-tights arise from identical sorts of ways of living in the world.

Both the dehumanization of female superheroes and the kneejerk sort of hatred of capes and trunks-over-tights come from people who are operating off thoughtless emotion, willful ignorance, and lazy indifference. It's not obvious at first, but once a person notices the similarity, it becomes too obvious ever to overlook again, except perhaps to those people who might want to defend thoughtless emotion and the rest as ways to operate in the world.

However, making it clear how similar a mindless hatred of capes and tights is to a mindless dehumanization of women might provoke insight in some people.

(The key difference between the two is, of course, that it is possible for someone who has thought seriously about it to dislike capes and trunks-over-tights for intelligent reasons, whereas there are never intelligent reasons to dehumanize women!)

nijineko
03-20-2014, 04:54 PM
If I didn't comment then, I probably should have, that when I first started roleplaying in my pre-teens, I swiftly noticed that almost no-one played female characters (unless they actually were a girl)... and I felt that was wrong - after all, many of the childhood stories and experiences I grew up with involved heroic, brave, intelligent, and resourceful women as well as men. As a result, I started playing more and more female characters as a sort of proof-of-concept to everyone I gamed with. ^^

LAST CRUSADER
03-21-2014, 02:52 PM
Playing a cross gender character is a personal choice and I can't imagine why anyone would say it was wrong not to. I would never feel the need to push anyone even to try it. Games are fun when we do things we enjoy. I'm seriously uncomfortable with it and for many years wouldn't allow players in my game to do it. It's not such a big deal any more. I mainly got over it because as GM I had to play females so I figured why not let players do it? especially since one of my players always played girls when anyone else was th GM.

Oh and I don't think there's much connection between sexualizing female characters and hating tights. Tights can easily be drawn in ways that sexualize the wearer and I've even seen sights where people post pictures of female superheroes made by airbrushing tights over porn models.
People who hate tights are usually just trying to take thier fantasies seriously and find that tights get in the way. I'd never game with someone like that. People who oversexualize women are simply indulging in a different kind of fantasy altogether. I don't game with them either.

nijineko
03-22-2014, 01:26 PM
I don't think I've ever played a cross-gender character, as a DM or a player, though I have one player who is doing so in one of my games now.

Oh wait, you mean playing a character whose gender doesn't match your own in real life? Ah, if so, I took that a bit differently. I thought you meant a character who was one gender in game, and pretended to be another gender in game, or had themselves changed deliberately to another gender in game.

Multi-gendered, non gendered, male, female, transformable gender, one of a multiple gender race, i've had characters of races with all of those types of genders, that sort of thing never even occurred to me that it could even be an issue.

In my own gaming experiences, I DID see a lot of anti-female comments and attitudes, which is what prompted my reaction described above.