I recently got linked to Legion of Nothing and very quickly tore my way through the five years of biweekly updates. It’s a take on the idea of generational superheroes, my other favorite examples of which are The Incredibles and Sky High. (I might also mention Watchmen, but I’m not sure it has quite the same vibe.)
Most supers campaigns I’ve played or heard about have tended to focus on first-generation heroes, and a lot of supers RPG settings even make “superheroes are just emerging now” a central conceit. But positing a Golden or even Silver Age of powered individuals prior to the start of the campaign has a number of interesting advantages:
- It’s required to have some kind of equilibrium with law enforcement and government that can inform player actions. Either the previous generation got superheroics outlawed, in which case the players know they’ll be acting on the sly, or the previous generation established a set of protocols (implicit or explicit) about how the new player characters can act within the world.
- Player characters don’t have to start from scratch: they’ll necessarily inherit resources and wisdom from the previous generation. The characters can start heroing from the first session, because they don’t have to feign ignorance of the genre conventions while they learn to be heroes or spend several sessions justifying access to necessary support.
- Game plotlines can play with a fully fleshed-out “how do powers alter the world?” concept immediately, and can reference events with short exposition about what the previous generation knew. Players can be launched right into a tangle of plotlines with earlier development based purely on their forebears’ prestige.
- Character generation can mix random and purchased powers generation, possibly satisfying both camps.
These last points are the focus of the (mostly system-agnostic) ideas below.
Previous Generation Generation
Most supers systems have some kind of random power generation method. Have each player make at least two characters using this method; you don’t need to fully flesh out character stats, but at least get a full suite of powers to figure out exactly what the character can do.
Use the collaborative system of your choice (Smallville Pathways, Microscope, etc.) to assign those power sets to semi-fleshed out characters. You need each one to be a named hero or villain with a good idea of personality and history. You particularly want to make sure these characters have numerous trysts that could produce another generation of supers. If you wind up with a whole set of notes on previous stories and characters in this world, so much the better.
Note a point where the characters start to wind down to care for their children and ultimately think about retirement. Then all the players pick the parents for their actual PCs based on which relationships they find interesting and what kind of powers they want to have.
Use this information and the rules below to generate your characters.
Perks and Flaws
The ideas below assume that you’re using a system with point-based chargen for all elements. If you’re using something where powers aren’t really quantified on that scale, the GM should just give away powers equal to the previous generation and award free points for each perk that isn’t about powers sufficient that everyone feels that the other advantages are worthwhile (e.g., if Inheritance grants a bunch of really potent powers, Trained should give a whole spread of really good combat skills).
Perks and Flaws are separate from normal chargen. Each Perk costs one point and each Flaw awards one point. Players start with Inheritance (except those that take Scrub) and can buy more by taking Flaws. Most Flaws are mutually exclusive with at least one Perk. You can only buy these traits if they make sense within established facts from the prior generation (e.g., if both parents are described as dead broke, you probably shouldn’t take Wealthy for their kids).
- Inheritance: (Automatic) You have fully inherited the potential from one of your ancestors. You can buy powers from that prior character up to whatever levels that character had (and can buy them after chargen with sufficient in-story rationale as to why latent powers are awakening).
- Dual Inheritance: (Replaces Inheritance) You have inherited potential from both sides of the family. You can treat both prior characters’ powers as your Inheritance for purchasing at chargen or later (with the same need for rationale for latent awakening).
- Combined Power Genesis: (Replaces Inheritance) The mixture of your parents’ genes created a new set of powers influenced by but not identical to your forebears. Work with the GM to come up with a list of powers and levels that are inspired by your characters’ ancestors, and you can purchase them like an Inheritance. These have similar magnitude and levels to the prior characters (e.g., if both characters have weak powers at low ranks, you probably shouldn’t hybrid it into a major power at high rank).
- Prestigious Legacy: Your ancestors weren’t just heroes, they were some of the most renowned heroes in the world. You have a very easy time gaining renown and respect, and may just collect some completely unearned accolades if your costume is similar enough to your ancestor’s. You may sometimes gain aid or gifts from people that feel they owe debts to your forebear.
- Wealthy: You descend from supers that either already had money, managed to turn their powered earnings into lasting and legitimate wealth, or married into money. While all of the (non-Broke) characters are comfortable and have access to whatever resources are standard to the team, you’re rich in your secret identity. This gives you a lot of potential social and political pull and freedom from having to work a day job to protect your identity. If the system includes a wealth trait, you can purchase as much as you’d like (others can only buy up to middle class). If there is no such trait, you can just assume you’re rich.
- Trained: Your parents decided to prepare you from childhood to take over for them some day, or at least to protect yourself against their enemies. You can buy any combat skills you wish and have easy access to training for more in-play (other PCs are limited to what makes sense for their background at chargen, which might be very low indeed if you start as teenagers).
- Augmented: Your family was friendly with psychics, inventors, government scientists, or some other group that could give their kids a leg up. You can buy limited powers that represent what makes sense for improvements from mental defense constructs, cybernetics, or minor genetic boosts. These should be limited to things it makes sense to do to your children to give them a protection against an empowered world, rather than whole power tropes on their own.
- Airtight Identity: Your family has been very careful to establish a wall between powered and civilian life. You’ve trained from childhood on behaviors to keep people from finding out your secrets (including low-level psychic defenses to protect you from surface probes). There’s no paper trail leading to you from any of your parents’ costumed deeds. If a plotline is uncovering the real identities of the PCs, yours will be the last to fall and the easiest to actively protect.
- Scrub: (Replaces Inheritance) If you got any powers at all, they’re much weaker than those of prior generations. Maybe your parents were the skill specialists of the team with no powers at all. You can only buy echoes of your ancestors’ powers: replace major or moderate powers with similar weak powers, and you can only take a rank or two of them (if that’s meaningful in your system). You should probably take Trained and get yourself some powered armor or gadgets if you’d like to fight evil with your friends. You cannot buy Dual Inheritance or Combined Power Genesis.
- Obvious/Mutated: Your powers are very hard to hide, either as a direct inheritance or some new element from combined powers in a bloodline. You might constantly leak visible energy, be unable to turn off your armor/size, or have other inhuman mutations to your body. With some combination of containment tech, illusion projection, or just really bulky clothes, you can still maintain a secret identity, but it’s always one malfunction or accident away from being revealed to everyone nearby. You cannot buy Airtight Identity.
- Villainous Forebear: At least one of your ancestors was a very bad person that still has notoriety, enemies, and former allies that believe debts are owed. You have to work twice as hard to get respect as your teammates (because everyone is just waiting for you to go dark too and/or suffered at the hands of your forebear). You will often be singled out by people that want payback for the sins of the father. You cannot buy Prestigious Legacy.
- Broke: Maybe your parents died early or just were never very good with money, and you never learned even basic money-management skills yourself. Unlike the other characters, your character is not even middle class: you cannot buy any wealth- or finance-related traits, and your secret identity is poor. Even if you still live a comfortable life supported by the rest of the team or the government, you’re the last person they’ll trust with unrestricted access to team resources that could be sold off and you’re the first person they’ll blame if something gets stolen. You cannot buy Wealthy.
- World on Your Shoulders: Growing up with your legacy was too much to live with, and it did bad things to your mental health. You must take at least one relatively crippling psychological problem such as addiction, overconfidence, narcissism, etc. Your personality is somewhat annoying or worrisome to your teammates, and they’ll have a hard time trusting you with serious responsibilities or even getting you to admit that you have a problem.
- Overprotective Parents: Your parents never wanted this for you, and have tried hard to keep you from following your legacy. They will constantly try to interfere with your superheroing. You cannot buy Trained or Augmented.
- Cursed: Your lineage comes with a major downside, either as a consequence of your powers or an unrelated aspect of your bloodline. You have some kind of incurable chronic debilitating ailment. It’s probably not fatal within your expected career as a hero, but it causes you pain and difficulty performing certain tasks.
- Open Identity: Either because your parents were public or you made a mistake early in your career, you have no secret identity: your legal identity is publicly associated with your powered one. This puts any unpowered friends and relatives in serious danger, and threatens the secret identities of your teammates if they’re seen with you unmasked. You cannot buy Airtight Identity.
- Promises to Keep: You made a long-term bargain with a (relatively) benign entity or inherited one from your family. Maybe you owe service to the government beyond what your team already provides, maybe your mentor is powerful and requires service for knowledge, or maybe you owe your powers themselves to some group intent on collecting for a long time. You will regularly be leaned on by this group to do things you might not otherwise want to do.