Superheroes can be dicks

Forget Iron Man.

PJ pointed me at the new Hancock trailer.
It’s true, Hancock has gone from being a “Wild Wild West” kind of camp nonsense movie to a movie I’d really like to see and a game I’d like to run. That said, Iron Man, much more than the Fantastic Four or Spider Man has always been a bit of a dick when he was Tony Stark – and I loved reading his stories for it.

(He also links to Superdickery)

Superheroes are often dicks.

In the first Watchtower game, there were really three ‘dick’ moments. None of these were bad on the part of the player and they made for some excellent role-playing moments but they represented times when the superhero did things that were unexpected.

  • Gavin’s first character, Atomic III, was a non-powered descendant of a dynasty of superheroes. He worked hard, he built himself some superpower-providing devices and he started doing what superheroes do – prowling around trying to find people to pummel. In the end this played out very well as he went a little power mad, fueled by his ‘power inadequacy’ where, even though he was the most powerful of the heroes due to his devices, it wasn’t enough. He ended up becoming a villain and threw a train at the player characters (one of whom were superstrong or supertough). Then he killed their healer. Ouch. Gavin has an amazing sense of comedy for these kinds of things.
  • Gavin’s second character, Wraith, was a cross between Batman and Hawkeye (but ten times cooler than Hawkeye). His actual power was the ability to be invisible and undetectable. He could sneak into places, collect evidence that was inadmissible in court and then when the criminal was acquitted, despite being guilty, Wraith would follow him home and thrash him into unconsciousness. On one absolute gem of a game, Wraith sneaked into a woman’s house (he suspected she was the supervillainess Malice) and then when nothing untoward happened (she got home, put away her groceries and sat down to watch TV), rather than sneaking out, he just turned off his power in the middle of her living room. He appeared, she freaked out and he admitted he was her creepy stalker. Turns out she was actually Malice. Go figure.
  • John Dean’s character, Ebony, discovered that his teleport skill also worked for time travel. Note to other GMs: I was a lot younger and lot stupider and had never really given unlimited time travel to players before. The ‘dick’ moments came when the player characters, after traveling into the past and modifying the future just….couldn’t….stop…..going….back to tweak things to their preference. Jade Dragon lost his restaurant, then got it back. Wraith discovered he was dating and co-habiting with Malice but had no memory of their many-month relationship. I think they all deserved to be ‘dicks’ but the biggest dick of the lot was the GM. Oops.

In the more recent WatchTower game, they all had their fair share of dickery though Paul’s character, Balance (the priest with uncanny matter shaping abilities) probably had more moments which, though caused for the most part by the possession and emotion control powers of the villain, were roleplayed brilliantly. Like when he completely blasted the whole team and caused their flesh to slough off. That was beautiful. Or when he sealed mind-controlled proto vampires in an underground tunnel (rather than seeing if they could be cured). He was decisive, let’s be honest.

I like flawed characters, especially in superhero games because they can be flawed in much more effective ways. If you’re a dick in a Zombi game, then no-one cares because you could just be left outside at some point and that would really ruin your picnic. If you’re a dick in The 23rd Letter, again, there’s a damage limitation as even psychics don’t get an easy break. It ain’t all fun being an Esper.

But in a Superhero game, you’re often the possessor of a unique ability (at least within your team) and that means you’ve pretty special. When you’re pissed off and do something about it, people notice.

We (Aidan and I) going to try playing a Superhero game online in the next couple of weeks. One player, one GM (for a while at any rate). I’ve asked Aidan to think of a character and some of the things he wants to do, or components of the world we will be playing in. I’d have asked him to do it in Wild Talents colour codes but, frankly, I’m not very keen on them and also he doesn’t have the book so it would be impenetrable to him. (It does make me want to create a ‘world builder’ for superhero games. I have it in my head how to do it (and it could be done in software too – a simple web form, oh yeah!))

I wonder about the playability of a world where there is one superbeing. And he’s the player character. Who are you foes? Do we spend more time looking at interpersonals? Do we add ‘reality’ while accepting that there is one guy in the world who can chew through steel? How does he live? How does he pay his way? Handouts?

I don’t know what Aidan will bring to the table but I’m excited about the opportunity to play a bit more.

About matt

Gamer. Writer. Dad. Serial Ex-husband. Creator of The 23rd Letter, SpaceNinjaCyberCrisis XDO, ZOMBI, Testament, Creed. Slightly megalomaniac
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