Super Hero Universe Idea – A Super Blast From The Past

I got a call yesterday from a friend of mine I don’t see too often, about a fumble table I had used in my last D&D game. Basically I had written up a random table to roll on whenever a player fumbled because I felt the whole “lose the rest of your attacks” or “hit yourself” or whatever we had previously been using was kind of boring and uninspired. I guess this friend (he had played the flashlight wielding paladin I have mentioned a couple times) is in a new game and had mentioned my table to his new DM. I was rather flattered and told him I would seek out the table and post it on the blog.

Instead I ended up with this Super Hero Universe idea. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

Unfortunately, after going through a number of old notebooks I was unable to locate the table. I tend to use two to three subject 9 1/2″ x 6″ notebooks for my gaming notes, and while I was able to find the graph paper that contained several of the dungeons from that game I was not able to find the written up notes about the game.

It did get me thinking about writing up a new fumble table for D&D 4th Edition but then none of this is what this post is meant to be about. What I wanted to write briefly about was a super hero world that I created a while back. I figure if I stick it up here, at least it too will not become lost.

Game Setting Summary

A world very much like our own. Good and evil might exist but there are shades of gray as well and actions are not always clear. Heroes are needed but they are not trusted, the world has not seen “super heroes” in years but due to several scandals people are unlikely to welcome their return. Still, things are about to change and some people can feel it coming. The main story is set up to take place in New Trenton, NY (which is basically Rochester, NY if it were about the size of NYC).

Time Line

  • 1870 – A young Maxwell Trenton moves to the burgeoning city of Rochester, NY. Maxwell has spent most of his life training in martial arts and has in his possession a book known as The Book of Universal Truth which contains information on bizarre ancient technologies that mimic magic. He has been sworn not to divulge this information to anyone.
  • 1880 – At the young age of 30, Maxwell is elected mayor of Rochester. Using the influence he has gained from being mayor and The Book of Universal Truth Maxwell builds a secret facility beneath Highland Park. From this location he protects the city as a masked super hero. His identity is never discovered.
  • 1900 – In honor of the new century and Maxwell’s 50th birthday the city board votes to change the name of the city to Trenton.
  • 1910 – Maxwell retires from public life.
  • 1920 – Maxwell retires from crime fighting and passes away shortly after.
  • 1930 – Trenton is hit hard by the depression. Crime rises at unbelievably high rates. The city begins to crumble.
  • 1955 – New heroes appear around the country:
    • Captain Supreme (Trenton, NY) Captain Supreme is the first individual to be seen using powers that defy physics. He can fly and he fires stunning beams from his hands.
    • The Cloak (Chicago, IL) The Cloak is a brilliant strategist. While he is decent at hand-to-hand combat, he is best known for outwitting his opponents.
    • Shadow Knight (New York, NY) A master of martial combat. Shadow Knight was said never to lose a fight.
  • 1970s – Scandals shake the world. Information comes to light that Captain Supreme is affiliated with a Right Wing Extremist group known as Supreme Light and both Shadow Knight and The Cloak are linked to protection rackets, The Cloak is shot and killed by a store owner who claimed he was being shaken down.
  • Late 70s to Early 80s – New heroes try to take the place of the fallen and disgraced. These new heroes are weaker than their predecessors and are inexperienced. To make things worse they are not trusted by the authorities or the public in general. Most give up, hanging up their costumes and embracing a normal life, others are killed or fade into obscurity.
  • 1983 – To try to raise the spirits of the citizens the mayor announces a major reform plan and renames the city New Trenton.
  • Late 80s and Early 90s – Super heroes are almost unheard of. Occasionally people present strange powers and are locked up or hidden away; such people are referred to as Deviants.
  • 1990 – The government creates Project Wakeful Knight. The aim of the project is to create a super human being who will have no secret identity and can thus be trusted and controlled. A number of soldiers volunteer to undergo experimentation and are given an injection meant to alter their DNA. Other citizens are also experimented on without their knowledge. Due to funding cuts the project is abandoned.
  • 2001 – Project Wakeful Knight is rekindled. The new aim of the project is seek out the individuals who were experimented on and verify that they never exhibited powers. The project is also looking into any children born from individuals that were experimented on.
  • 2004 – The entity known as The Unbidden returns to the world. Its presence sparks a new magic rebirth.
  • Today – Super heroes are all but forgotten. In general few people remember them, and most who do remember them as being untrustworthy, dangerous and corrupt. Wakeful Knight is beginning to train individuals it finds who possess powers, but this is being done behind the scenes. Many that WK tracks down resist being drafted into their ranks. The conflict is beginning to heat up as some people are discovering magical abilities and ancient rituals once again have power. Soon, this shadow war will spill out into the real world and everyone will have to decide exactly what they believe.

A Few Thoughts On Super Hero Games

I’ve tried to run a few super hero RPGs over the years to mixed success. While some of the problems were that I often tried to instill too many “shades of gray” in the game (the genre simply does not support much of this) I also ran into some system conflicts.

I have played primarily Champions and Silver Age Sentinels. Both are great in how many options they have for character creation and powers but this openness can lead to gameplay problems. Balance becomes a huge issue when one character builds them self to be nigh invulnerable and another constructs a brilliant tactician. Basically to hurt the one, you need a bad guy that can “one-shot” the other.

I think that a super hero game could potentially be fun, however, if it used something like the Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition system. While this might limit what powers players can take, it isn’t that hard to build around this. For example, the powers simply need to say how many dice of damage you roll and what extra effect you get from the power but then let the player choose what the power looks like and what kind of energy is used to do the damage. There should be suggestions of course – if the power stuns then ice would be more appropriate than fire but concussion could work as well – but it seems there could still be a fair amount of control over character design.

If anyone is interested in working on something like this let me know!


    Heh, that was one thing which initially drew me to Role Master, all of the lovely critical tables.