I got the DVDs for the old Justice League Unlimited show recently. The gimmick of the show is that it features every DC hero that anyone on the staff liked as members of the Justice League. Most episodes feature one or two of the main seven League members on a team with up to four more obscure characters. In-universe, the arrangement is based on whether each character’s specialty is applicable to the threat of the week. It’s also set up due to the dramatic potential of the characters playing off one another.

The setup for the show is almost like a troupe-style RPG, except even in a game where each player has multiple characters, the array is usually more stable than the JLU episodes. You could do it in Capes very easily, but I’ve mentioned before my difficulties getting buy in on long-term GMless games. But what I can get buy in on is Smallville-style group character creation and a systematized shared party resource (ala SoIaF houses, Nobilis chancels, etc.). So the following is based on that (with a little inspiration from Microscope).

This is probably best for a very lightweight, fast chargen system like Over the Edge, as you’ll want to be able to create secondary characters quickly. But it’s theoretically playable with anything given enough dedication of time to making these characters.

As a group, the players create a shared resource that represents their team. Elements of the resource include practical things (like financial resources and base upgrades) as well as intangibles (like fame and respect). This resource is meant to improve in play.

Each player makes a primary PC. This character belongs to that player and will always be portrayed by him or her. Each PC has a relationship statement about each other PC; these don’t necessarily need to be numerically rated like in Smallville, but should create the possibility for drama with each other PC. For example, Wonder Woman is “distrustful of Hawkgirl” and “interested in Batman romantically” while Batman is “worried the government is right about the danger of Superman” and “bothered by the Flash’s immaturity.”

Each PC should also have several Aspect-style statements about unresolved background or current character hooks. These are designed to change in play, so should be things the player is interested in resolving or exploring further. Superman has “I don’t believe Luthor has changed” and the Flash has “Why don’t I get any respect around here?”

Finally, each PC should have one or more Truth statements that are the opposite of the background hooks: they never change, but the player is trying to find situations where they’re proven correct. Both Batman and Superman have “Killing is never justified,” for example.

Using a full Smallville-style pathways character creation is recommended but not required.

During play, the group is awarded points toward the shared party resource (and some exp, if you have character improvement) every time a primary PC:

  • Changes a relationship based on the events of a session
  • Resolves, changes, or adds a background/hook based on the events of a session
  • Holds firm to a truth in the face of an NPC or secondary PC’s opposition

And how do you accomplish these things? A game where the players are all trying to advance their personal elements might be interesting in the short term, but could become overly competitive before too long. Thus, most sessions feature secondary PCs that don’t have points-granting agendas. Instead, these characters are deliberately subordinate, dramatically, to the main PCs. If they have character elements in opposition to the main PCs, they are often expected to start a conflict on the subject but then lose.

Each session:

  1. The GM picks a primary PC to be the star of the show. Likely, something about the plot ties into the PC’s backgrounds or truths in a way that isn’t evident yet.
  2. That PC chooses a relationship with another PC. The player of that other PC can choose to play the PC in this session OR a secondary PC that can progress the relationship. For example, if Wonder Woman wants to focus on her (potentially romantic) relationship with Batman, Batman’s player might instead choose to portray a hero she had dated previously.
  3. The remaining players then pick secondary PCs that are practically or thematically relevant to the GM’s mission briefing and/or one of the focal PCs’ character elements. For example, a nano-tech plotline calls practically for The Atom’s expertise, a story about war is thematically perfect for Hawk and Dove, and Green Arrow’s character traits that make him a poor fit with the league often call for characters that are bigger iconoclasts than he is.
  4. Any secondary PCs that didn’t previously have stats have them created now. It’s common for characters that have only appeared briefly to have more depth given to them in subsequent appearances (possibly adjusting previously picked stats to fit). Previously played secondary PCs might be picked up by a different player if no one objects.
  5. The GM runs the game as normal for the system used, with the players looking for opportunities to put the focal PC’s traits into conflict.
  6. At the end of the session, the focal PC is offered the opportunity to change relationships and backgrounds, and/or to provide evidence that a truth was upheld against opposition. Points are awarded accordingly.

Major plot sessions that make it relevant to get together the core group of primary PCs should either proceed similarly (there is one focal PC whose traits drive the awards) or not feature interpersonal drama (with the GM being trusted to call several backgrounds and truths into conflict). One-off sessions may sometimes feature everyone playing a secondary PC to see what some favorites get up to when they don’t have a main protagonist looking over their shoulders.