Saturday, October 18, 2014

Creating a Superhero Setting part 3: Out amongst the stars

We continue our look at elements of a Superhero setting! (Sorry for the delay, college kicked my ass this week.)
In previous parts I discussed teams and organizations and people and places but you may have noticed that everything I've talked about only deals with Earth. This installment will remedy that with a look at some of the common alien civilizations, groups, and worlds in these type of settings. I'll also cover some of the dimensions too.

The Neighbors

The Neighbors are an Alien (or modified Human!) species living right in our solar system, usually on a terrestrial planet but also found on the Jovian planets or our own moon (!). Such species are technologically advanced but usually few in number. Individuals also have superhuman powers, making the perfect material for heroes or villains. Their society and culture tend be isolationist and they are usually a civilization in decline or rebuilding from some great disaster.
Examples in comics: Martians (DC), Inhumans

The Space Cops

Endowed with cosmic power by a group of Aliens with big egos, the Space Cops police a large portion of the galaxy or universe. Recruits are drawn from a myriad of species, although there's inevitably a hot-shot Human rookie that some think might become the best Space Cop ever. The founders of the Space Cops are a little distant and their actually authority to enforce space laws is pretty sketchy but most civilizations at least pretend to care.
Examples in comics: Green Lanterns, Nova Corps

The Militaristic Empires

Two (or more) empires that frequently war with each other, often dragging other planets into their own brutal wars. One or both empires also consider Earth to be a key strategic point in this war and will often attempt to conquer it.
Examples in comics: Kree and Skrull Empires, Rann and Thanagar

The God-World

This larger-than-life world is inhabited by beings that identify themselves as gods and have the power to back up their claims. Although the average "god" isn't necessarily superhuman, the people higher up on the totem are ridiculously powerful. Their technology is so advanced that it either seems or IS magic. The gods often meddle on Earth and other planets, sometimes for altruistic or selfish motives. In some cases there might be a second God-World inhabited only by evil gods.
Examples in comics: New Genesis and Apokalips, Asgard (Marvel)

The Three Cosmic Beings

The Three Cosmic Beings are extremely powerful wild cards that follow their own agendas. One is Benevolent, and will often help Earth or other beleaguered planets; another is Malevolent and wants to kill/eat/enslave most of the galaxy; the final is Neutral, pursuing its goal single-minded and sometimes breaking the rules along the way. These three don't have to be actively opposing each other; They may not even be fully aware of each other. If the Malevolent being gets too crazy then the Neutral being will aid the Benevolent out of self-interest.
Examples in comics: Silver Surfer/Terrax/Galactus, Highfather/Darkseid/Metron

Now, let's veer off in a more mystical direction with dimensions:

The Hell Dimension

Whether based on traditional fire-and-brimstone imagery or something stranger, the Hell Dimension is home to both what Humans would call demons and the souls of evil people (or people who signed contracts). Evil magic-users tend to draw their powers from this realm. The head honcho is usually a stand-in/analogue of the devil, although he/it is rarely presented as THE devil. Likewise, there are sometimes multiple Hell Dimensions.
Examples in comics: Neron's Underworld, Mephisto's Hell, Dormammu's Dark Dimension, Darkseid's Apokalips (debateable)

The Afterlife Dimension(s)

There are also dimensions based on almost every religious conception of the afterlife, although the Judeo-Christian Heaven tends to only be hinted at (see the ends of Thunderstrike and Ostrander's Spectre). The afterlife dimension are really just set-ups to meet departed friends or foes, not for full adventures.

The Magic Dimension

Quite simply an excuse to throw weird shit at the heroes and villains, the magic dimension(s) make a mockery of rational thought and real world physics. Magical characters get stronger and slightly more unhinged in these places.

That's all for now. Next: Alternate timelines, possible futures, and the multiverse.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Creating a Superhero Setting part 2: People & Places

In the previous installment of this series, I detailed some of the organizations I thought were essentially for a large-scale, kitchen-sink  Superhero universe. In this installment I'll be focusing on the ever-important civilian population and some key locations.

The Civilians

The little people. The ones most frequently in danger during villains' onslaught, the one who become a statistic during the alien invasions, the ones heroes swear to protect. The most important factor in civilian population is how they feel about Superhumans. As noted in part 1, The Team is the most well-known and well-liked team on the globe (or a big part of the globe). But if the general populace detests Superhumans and sees them as walking WMDs, that's analogous to saying that The Team is the least hated example of Superhumans and still are constantly trying to prove themselves. There's a couple of viewpoints that can crop up regarding Supers:
-Fear/Hatred: Supers are inherently dangerous; they cause damage to cities when they fight. Also, Supers are causing aliens/demons/whatevers to attack Earth...if the Supers leave, Earth will be unmolested as it was before the Supers emerged (of course there usually have been invasions prior to the emergence of Supers, they've just been forgotten/mythologized)
-Cynical: Yeah, the really powerful Supers are good guys but one day some crazy asshole will win the superpower lottery and turn Earth into a hellhole.
-Optimistic: The inverse of the above, it's only prevalent in areas ruled by villains or Supers with extremely loose morality.
-Idealistic: The good that Supers do far outweighs the evil. And we can trust them because (most) are still ordinary people deep down.

A "realistic" setting would have a mix of Idealistic, Cynical, Fear/Hatred, and simple indifference about equally distributed. Marvel leans toward Cynical & Fear/Hatred viewpoints. DC leans toward Idealistic viewpoints.


So now that I've ranted about civvies, let's focus on locations.

The Villain-ruled Country

This smallish, fictional country is ruled by a villain or an extremely pragmatic hero who took control after ousting a "corrupt" government. This country is usually in an are with a recent history of war and instability such as the Balkans, Eastern Europe, or the Near East. The ruler might be a total despot or a "tough but fair" figure: Population viewpoints are split between Idealistic, Fear/Hatred, and Optimistic (if the ruler is a jerkass), but any viewpoint that challenges or condemns the ruler is unlikely to be expressed publicly for fear of retribution.
Oddly, the regional impact of this country seems to be frequently neglected.
Examples in comics: Latveria (ruled by Doctor Doom); Kahndaq (ruled by Black Adam)

The Hero-ruled Country

Ruled by a Hero, this country is a hereditary monarchy. You'd think this country would come into conflict with the above but it's usually placed in a different region than the above. It also has a surprisingly low impact on regional politics. The majority population viewpoint is Idealistic.
Examples in comics: Wakanda (ruled by Black Panther); Markovia (ruled by Geo-force)


As something that has intrigued Humanity for centuries, it's no surprise that Atlantis gets heavily used. The exact nature of the Atlanteans varies but they generally have superhuman durability (to withstand pressure) and strength. They can breathe underwater but being capable of air-breathing could be a rare atavism/mutation. Atlanteans tend to be lead by a ruler that is half-Human/half-Atlantean. Depending on how scientifically accurate you want to be regarding interspecies breeding, this would mean that the Atlanteans were once Human.

The Lost World

Whether it's an unreachable island or a secret spot under the Earth, the Lost World is a place were dinosaurs, cavemen, wizards, and Conan rip-offs dwell. There are also occasional bits of ancient hyper-technology that boggle the mind. The Lost World is a savage, tribal land where hunting-gathering is the main mode of subsistence. But feel free to insert random castles and a suitable agrarian support network for them. There's also plenty of room for Lovecraftian elements.

Now, let's head into space and the outer reaches of the galaxy!
Or you can explore parallel Earths if that interests you more.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Familiar yet Unknown

It has been three days since you crossed the farthest border of the tribal Orc lands. According to the shaman you interrogated, the kingdom of Jeng-Gu is only 10 days' journey away. As you travel, the ranger notices footprints near the bushes. Some are booted but others are impressions of bare feet. She recognizes the three-toed footprints immediately: Goblins. The party carefully fans and searches, then spot movement near a stream. The warrior carefully approaches a Goblin standing inattentively near the foliage. He prepares a mighty leap to cross the 10 feet or so between him and his mark, a skewering, leaping charge that should lead to a quick surrender. Enough time has passed: the others are in position. He leaps, ready to deliver a killing blow to his enemy's back! He brings his mighty bastard sword down and...there's is a blur of movement and he finds the blow blocked by his enemy who has turned but is still not facing him. It wheels around to face him. The fighter realizes that this thing isn't a Goblin, at least not the normal kind. From its hairless head spring two antennae; its swollen, bulbous eyes are solid black and gleam with hunger; from within its mouth, attached to its upper jaw, a set of mandibles juts out. The ambush turns into a blood-soaked skirmish; the Goblin-things move with perfect, wordless coordination. An unnatural coordination. But the party triumphs; a bloody and pyrrhic victory that might just guarantee their defeat in the next battle. Looting the bodies, the thief finds an ivory amulet with a figure carved upon it: The Goblin god of war, Ramahsa. But there is something amiss with his depiction; his hands are pincer-like claws, his head combines the worst aspects of a mantis, an ant, and a spider. What horrors have you stumbled upon?

 Pardon the above piece of overindulgent and overly RPG-recap-esque fiction but I was particularly inspired at the time. If there's one old D&Dism that I actually find charming, it's got be the concept of subraces. I'm not talking about the relatively tame subraces like Hill Dwarves (like Dwarves, but with Hills!) or Wood Elves (like Elves, but with more redneck!) but really crazy stuff like aquatic Gargoyles, the half-plesiosaur Sea (or was it Ocean?) Giants, or the weird monkey Goblins.

In a low-fantasy world, I believe that such really bizarre variations help create a more memorable and adventurous experiment. The places where normal monsters dwell should actually be pretty well-know and close by the core region where the game is taking place. But beyond those monster-ruled wildernesses there should be something it is weird.

In my little fiction, I assume Goblins are roughly on par with an average Human but much more cowardly. But the bizarre Insecto-Goblins the party encounter aren't cowardly and in fact seem to show no fear at all, fighting to the bitter end even when retreat is a sensible idea. There's also hints that these guys have a hivemind or telepathy which gives them their "unnatural" coordination.

AD&D weirdness: And then the Elf girl was a snake

Carnival was an AD&D supplement detailing a wandering carnival led by a fallen(?) angel for the Ravenloft (although the cover hastily tacks on "OR FOR OTHER SETTINGS!" to milk those sweet, sweet dollarbux). It's full of various D&Disms like Elves, Wizards, Orcs, and Lycanthropes but there is one bit that is so utterly bizarre that I wanted to single it out.

Take a look at the cover here It's very late 90s cheesecake-y goodness, although the number of shirtless fit men outnumber the lone busty blonde Elf. There's a kind of "innocence" to this type of art, much like Frank Frazetta's art, where a weird sensual (or perhaps sexual?) energy objectifies both men and women, making it comparatively inoffensive (at least to me).

So what's the story on our nearly-naked Elf maiden with huge knockers?

She's a snake. No, literally. Someone, somewhere for some (perverted) reason turned a snake into a Elven bombshell who now prances around practically nude. Imagine if a PC ends up romancing her and then learns the truth. At least she's sapient though!
Seriously, look at the butt. Wizards truly have no sense of right and wrong.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Creating a Superhero Setting part 1: Teamwork

"So what elements do you need to make a decent superhero setting?"
I was thinking about this earlier and had a few ideas in quick succession about. This list is specifically based on "kitchen sink" settings like Marvel and the old 52 DC. I can't guarantee that it'll make your setting great and memorable but it should convey a sense of familiarity while preserving some surprises. For now, I'm just going to focus on organizations that should be present in such worlds.

The Team

This is the main superhero group of the world, known by virtually everyone, and influential on a global stage. It contains a variety of heroes; magicians, superscientists, people who can punch really good, etc. A good group size is about 5-9 heroes here, most of whom should have a noteworthy career outside of the group. Also, consider who/what the heroes are and how being a global celebrity might shape public opinion. If a member is a robot or an alien, expect to see more acceptance of robots or aliens, respectively.
Examples of these organizations in comics: The Justice League, the Avengers

The Old Team

Founded back in dubya-dubya-two, The Old Team has been kicking ass and taking names since before most of The Team was even born. Although they made history, The Old Team is largely forgotten, overshadowed by The Team. The Old Team consists of a few survivors from World War Two, who have usually experienced some sort of time skip to avoid too much aging or are practically unaging, and new heroes inheriting the mantles of the survivors' comrades. They also fight Nazis a lot.
Examples of these organizations in comics: The Justice Society, the Invaders

The Young Team

Members of The Team have an unfortunate tendency to hoard sidekicks and gain  derivative characters much younger than themselves. These youngsters organize into a new team where they don't have to deal with the stuffiness of either The Team or The Old Team. Most members are in the 16-20 age range.
Examples of these organizations in comics: The Teen Titans, the New Warriors

The Government Agency

Superhumans pose a lot of legal questions. Can you use x-ray vision on someone without a warrant? Is anyone who throws on a spandex suit and tries to rob a bank unfit to stand trial?
Stuff like this is the purview of the Government Agency, which is the public face of Human-Superhuman relations.
Examples of these organizations in comics: Department of Metahuman Affairs (pretty sure that's a thing in DC), House Committee on Superhuman Activities

The SECRET Government Agency

While the Government Agency is the public face of Human-Superhuman relations, this organization is its private face. At times helpful to Supers and other times harmful, this Agency believes in preparing defenses against a possible Human-Superhuman war and often engages in questionable activities to obtain it.
Examples of these organizations in comics: Cadmus, Checkmate, S.H.I.E.L.D.

The Criminal Syndicate

Crime usually pays but in a world with Supers you get diminishing returns.This is where Syndicate steps in. Need some crazy science doohicky? Need some super-powered muscle for a job? The Syndicate is more than happy to provide it as long as you help advance its agenda. From petty crime to global domination, the Syndicate is always hiring!
Examples of these organizations in comics: Intergang, AIM, Hydra

Next, we need to think of people and places. On to Part 2!
Or you can skip to OUTER SPACE if you prefer.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

JoJo before JoJo: or Fabulous Magic Kung-fu Goblins and Weaponized Life Force

Some of you may or may not be familiar with JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. The early installments are summarized as huge muscled martial arts striking bizarre and almost impossible poses while using life energy to punch vampires and SUPER vampires. This is a JJBA image macro:
Now compare the above to this, from the Deities & Demigods supplement for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons;
As you can see, Maglubiyet is also pretty fabulous in the posing department. As the creator of Goblins, it seems like his creations would take after him.
So what about Goblins that are some form of bizarre magical martial artists? If based on JoJo's concept of weaponized life energy then Goblins could perhaps be a race apart from all others, supernaturally linked to a plane or dimension of life force.
Maybe they never die of old age like Tolkien's Elves. They could be walking bombs of "positive energy", anathema to the undead. Maybe they have innate healing powers.
Another thing worth considering is if non-Goblins can learn their mysterious martial arts. It could just be plain impossible, making Goblins the kung-fu race of the campaign world; it could be partially available but Humans/Elves/Dwarves/whatever lack the link to the mysterious "life-force" and must content themselves with mundane techniques; or it could be possible for anyone to learn with a healthy dose of hard work and guts.

Friday, October 3, 2014

It Lives!

Hi, my name's Buzzclaw.
I have a lot of ideas (most are admittedly kinda crap) and I feel like some are worth sharing. Since some of those are too niche to actually discuss on most web forums, I'm going to soapbox here.

General topics will include: Comic books, particularly of the superhero genre; role-playing games; 16- and 32- bit videogames; general science fiction and fantasy ideas; sophisticated toys for sophisticated adult toy collectors such as myself; and a whole bunch of other crap you probably won't care about.

Hopefully you will find something on here that you'll find cool.