Setting Hook: Superheroes through the Ages

I’m a sucker for a superhero themed game. Maybe it’s my inner comic-geek, but there’s something about a game with supers that just works for me. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to create a setting that is both original and able to compel the players.  Supers really benefit from a sense of belonging to a larger world with a history.  But as mot GMs know, creating a sense of history for a world is much easier said than done.  One way to combat this issue is to make supers a “new” thing in the setting.  While there’s nothing wrong with new super heroes in a modern setting, its a theme that’s been done to death of late. So why don’t we mix things up by keeping the “supers are a new thing” idea and applying it to different periods in history!

So let’s play with a couple of ideas:

  • Wild West – Supers in the American Wild West is a classic.  Partly because comics have had a fascination with the old west for a long time (including one of my favorite characters, Jonah Hex).  For me, this is a time period that benefits from low powered supers – characters with minor powers or those that are skill/gadget dependent.  I personally love the idea of such heroes being true mystery men – little understood by the local populace, considered myths by most.
  • Roman Republic – I really love the Roman Empire as a campaign setting (especially for games likes Vampire: Dark Ages and Cthulhu Invictus). For me, this is a setting where you can really up the power level a fair bit.  Any heroes would be prized citizens who would inevitably get caught up in the politics of the Roman Senate.
  • Ancient Middle East – I’ve played with using the ancient Middle East as a supers setting several times over the years.  So many religions have sprouted from this area that it just seems ripe for introducing superheroes.  For me, I’d ramp the power level way up and ramp the costumes down.  The supers in this setting feel more like the heroes of religious stories, battling against cosmic forces of destruction while protecting primitive society.
  • Europe During the Inquisition – I’ve always thought that Europe during the Spanish Inquisition was a fabulous setting for a RPG (I’m going to have to expand on this at some point).  But with supers, it becomes even more fun.  Clearly, anyone showcasing superpowers must be in league with the forces of evil and a prime target of the Inquisition.  Even better, maybe the players are loyal, principled members of the Inquisition!  I like lower powered supers for this setting so that the mortal hunters are a legitimate threat.

There are obviously a lot of different places you can take this particular hook. I’ve run one campaign that had supers occur for the first time in WW2 (using the really great ICONS RPG).  To differentiate my game from something like Godlike, each session represented one year of the war meaning that we were able to see long term changes to the world over the course of the game.  But that’s just one approach!  I’d love to hear any other ideas you might have!

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