Supers

From 1d4chan

The usual nickname for RPG settings and systems with Superpowers, especially those with Superheroes. Called "Supers" probably in part because the word "Superhero" is trademarked by Marvel and DC, or "Capeshit" by the chans in general ("capeshit" originally referred to superhero movies, but has since spread to all superhero stuff).

An exact definition of the genre is a bit annoying because broader definitions can include The Epic of Gilgamesh (literally the oldest surviving literature), and Greek myth (the origin of the "hero" part), both of whom often feature in modern superhero fiction. Even narrower definitions will predate comic heroes with pulp figures like Zorro. Luckily, for /tg/'s purposes the genre can defined somewhere along the lines of a system designed for playing characters and adventures in the style of (/world of for licensed works) DC and Marvel comics (and their competitors/imitators) and the adaptations of those comics.

And, yes, Batman counts as part of the genre. His impossible-super-science gadgets (which even the Dark Knight trilogy and the Adam West version engaged in), otherwise ridiculously high degree of schooling, and the level of recovery from injury all count as "Superpowers".

Some General Trends[edit]

There's a vast amount of territory covered by Superpowered RPGs, in keeping with the comic books and TV shows that birthed most of them. Here's some general trends, staples and constraints of the genre:

  • Relatability
    • A frequent concern with actual comic books and linear media adaptions[1]; if the audience can't see themselves or at least a functional equivalent of the world they live in in the work, they may come away disinterested. Many modern, mass-appeal media with Supers does their best to make the Supers and the world they inhabit relatable and down-to-earth as a result, while more dedicated superhero fans go for the more obscure, but also more pure superhero stories.
    • If you're wondering where Kid Sidekicks, below, and "Captain Ethnic" characters come from, attempts to improve "Relatability" are why.
  • Genre
    • If you don't count "Supers" as a genre, or only partly so: While individual settings and stories can be Mundane, Horror, Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy, or a few others, most supers settings that get glommed together as they evolve (such as DC/Marvel or many animated ones) tend to be classifiable as Science Fantasy.
    • Further, there's a surprisingly vast array of other genres the Supers genre can be on either end of the "Subgenre" of. To name some of the odder types that get seen somewhat frequently: Romance, Drama, Historical Fiction (including Western), Sex Comedy, Giant Robot, War stories, Full Fair Play Mystery, Surprisingly Hard Science Fiction, Horror, Martial Arts, and Musical (yes, really).
  • Power level
    • As powers get more powerful, the "relatability" of the hero goes down.
    • It's possible to make this work, by emulating mythology and going full SuperGods, or by making the OP superhero a supporting character (which is how Superman's spinoffs worked).
    • Live-action TV shows tend to love superpowers that don't require any expensive special effects, such as Telepathy or Mind Control. Look out for budget cheats.
    • A setting can have a very vast degree of scale of power levels; DC has Green Lantern (cosmic scale science fiction) alongside Batman's Gotham City, where Killer Croc (mild super-strength and crocodile traits) and Mr. Freeze (who has a freeze gun and immunity to cold) are unusually powerful.
  • Antiheroes
    • From very early on in the 60s, comics have shown a massive fascination with various kinds of Anti-heroic figures of all stripes; well-meaning failures, villains who take an otherwise good idea way too far, sociopathic figures who could only be called "heroes" because of the side they're on, physically monstrous heroes, heroes who subscribe to a moral code that puts them on the "wrong" side of the law, heroes who have more character flaws than then many of their villains, characters doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, characters doing bad things for reasons that seemed good at the time, superhero comics have gone through them all.
      • Bruce Banner (The Incredible Hulk) is notable for being all of the above at one time or another, what with his severe multiple personality disorder.
    • This fascination can be attributed to two common impulses in Superhero writers: answering the "what makes a person a hero?" question with a character (either for us to judge, or to spell out an answer, depending on the current capacity for subtlety of the writer), or because they make for good Foils for the current hero of your book.
    • There was a big wave of popularity for more extreme antiheroes in the 90s and early 00s, but the sheer stupidity of most such examples, along with a change in national mood in the US, lead to most of them going back into the edgelord shadows.
  • Capes
    • Since 1960, not much of a thing. Superman wore one, as did a lot of heroes in his wake, but most heroes stopped wearing them by the 1960s. Most Marvel heroes avoid capes.
    • The reason capes vanished is because it was realized that capes have a tendency to get snagged on things. (The Incredibles and Watchmen both have this as a plot point.)
    • There are exceptions:
      • Batman uses a cape to disguise his motions (is he going to throw a punch or a batarang?) and frequently uses it to glide. (It should be added that he was doing this well before Batman Begins; the reason he looks so weird on that first Detective Comics cover is because the original idea was he was going to be gliding with that cape.)
      • Doctor Strange has a Cloak of Levitation, which is what allows him to fly, among other things.
      • A lot of villains, because they put style over substance.
      • Characters whose primary power (or one of them, at least) is flight. It's usually "explained" that a well-made cape allows better control over flight for these heroes; how plausible that is depends on the cape in question.
    • That being said, Supers get called "Capes" a lot, for reasons lost in the mists of time. To the point that "Capeshit" is what a large chunk of the Internet calls Superhero-related media.
  • Captain Ethnic
    • As superhuman characters from outside of the original WASP American backgrounds started to become a thing in the 60s and 70s, writers had to figure out a way to make it clearer who these characters were in terms of ethnicity. Taking cues from the Captain Patriotic trope of the Golden Age, Captain Ethnic characters are heavily defined their ethnicity or nationality, particularly when it comes to costume design or power set. At its best, these characters draw upon mythology or pop culture from their origins; for example, a Japanese super-inventor who uses samurai themed Power Armor and gadgets. At its worst, these characters are just bad ethnic stereotypes, such as an Irish superheroine who dresses in a sexualized version of the leprechaun outfit, has luck manipulation powers, and is portrayed as a drunken slutty party girl.
    • A variant of this trend is African-American supers with electricity-related powers, an homage and incredibly lazy pun to the "Black Power" movements of the 70s.
  • Captain Patriotic
    • Superheroes specifically themed around being defined by their love of their country and nation, usually resulting in their costume choices. During the Golden Age of Comics - aka, World War II - superheroes of this stripe proliferated, but they began to die out afterwards as nationalism waned and, without an active war on, showy acts of patriotism became less of a big cultural thing.
    • Can sometimes overlap with Captain Ethnic, but it's not mandatory for it to do so.
    • Villainous Captain Patriotics are most certainly a thing, but with the fall of Nazism and Communism, the original go-to sources for them, they've fallen out of favor as much as their heroic counterparts have.
  • Character Clones
    • You might also know them as an "Expy", "Alternate Company Equivalent" or "Captain Ersatz" from TVTropes.
    • A frequent feature of just about all superhero related media: a non-copyright infringing version of a character from another company (or occasionally, your own). The most frequent use is parody, but pseudo-crossovers are also common, as are "deconstructions".
      • There have been self-company clones; usually, the reason is because the rights are tied up, or because the character is thought to be unfitting for the audience (for example, one reason DC had so many John Constantine knock-offs is because for many years he was an "adults only" character that was carefully confined to the "Vertigo" imprint).
    • There's also parallel evolution, which is a very frequent thing in any storytelling medium. That is, two different characters or teams are designed to fill a niche, but in the process, the niche dictates so much that the two are almost identical. Notable examples in comic books include the initial versions of Swamp Thing and Man Thing (and both of whom were heavily inspired by an earlier, out of print character, The Heap), and the original versions of the X-Men and Doom Patrol; both pairs appeared effectively simultaneously, and were obviously based on roughly the same inspiration.[2]
    • Straight ripoffs are rarer, as it's widely considered to be playing with copyright lawsuit fire, but they happen, particularly of the type that can be played off as "parallel evolution".
  • Foils, aka Contrasting Characters
    • Not foil as in "defeating", but rather a common trope in storytelling in general, but Superhero-related media in particular: Two characters are frequently shown together because they contrast one another, bringing out otherwise hidden aspects of both.[3]
    • This can take many forms; two Heroes contrasting styles shows that one or both styles have their merits; or some kind of "Goofus and Gallant" scenario; or a villain whose backstory contrasts heavily with the hero's; or two villains whose goals and nature make them natural foes, just to name a few common such story beats.
    • This gets to the point that villains have been known to migrate to other heroes in the same universe because the "foiling" on them is better.[4]
  • Legacy Characters
    • In settings with an in-universe history of superhumans, you'll often have the concept of the "Legacy Character"; a superhero identity or "family" that is either literally passed down from one worthy character to another, or where one character's actions as a superhero inspire others to also become superheroes, leading to their deliberately styling their costumes and, to a lesser extent, their power sets after their inspirations in homage.
    • A related trope is the "Affirmative Action Legacy", where legacy characters are of a different ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or combination thereof to their "progenitor". Done well, this can add to the feeling of realism and grounding of the base identity. Done poorly, as it usually is, you have an obvious politically motivated pandering character.
  • Masquerade
    • A few Urban Fantasy or Conspiracy-themed settings are, effectively, Masquerades concealing the existence of Superpowered individuals. Why varies, but the result is usually fairly stupid.
    • Some Superhero settings have a partial Masquerade, usually involving either Magic or Time Travel, since both of those can unbalance the setting away from "Relatability".
  • Mythology
    • Because mythological figures are generally in the public domain, and thus free for authors to use, a lot of characters, items, and monsters are taken from mythology. Villains, heroes, Macguffins, you name it, it's probably been used.
    • Most commonly used are the Greek and Norse mythologies, for the usual reasons of "being widely known" and "easy to research". East Asian stuff is becoming more common recently thanks to certain influences.
  • Secret Identities
    • Supers often act as vigilantes, or are otherwise outside the purview of the law, and thus must wear outfits to conceal their actions.
    • As a general rule, as time has gone on, fewer and fewer superheroes have them, as the reason to have one has gone down. That being said, the usual explanation nowadays is to protect unpowered family members, which as reasons go is at least reasonable.
    • In particular, there's a general feeling that "Street-level" superheroes are allowed a secret identity; those whose individual aspirations extend beyond a city are not (e.g., The Fantastic Four, Iron Man (even back when Iron Man was Tony Stark's "bodyguard", there was no question but that Iron Man worked for Stark), or on the DC side, Green Lanterns (who work for a Law Enforcement agency) and Wonder Woman (whose origins meant she didn't start with one, and for whose political goals maintaining an ongoing second identity would probably be counterproductive).)
    • Japanese (and East Asian more generally) superheroes either don't have them, have them because a transformation is part of their powers, or have them more because the hero is an benevolent infiltrator of some kind.
  • Sidekicks
    • The inclusion of a second character, often a minor in older works, as a secondary and subservient character to the hero. Much less common nowdays. This is mainly because having children in physical danger has clashed poorly with comics becoming more serious and less child oriented, and having a second character as an equal partner instead of an inferior opens more plots and character expression than a child did. Batman, as with many now dropped genre conventions, gets his wards grandfathered in. (Child superheroes still exist as solo characters, characters in a team with other minor aged characters, and as the biological child of superpowered parents working with their mom and/or dad.)
      • Interestingly, Stan Lee's hatred of Kid Sidekicks (he killed Bucky Barnes off for just this reason) led to him creating Spider-Man in an effort to fill the "kid character" niche with something a bit less stupid.
      • And even Batman writers have at least moved somewhat to make things a bit less "Child endangerment" (on Batman's part, at least): Two of the more recent additions to the Bat-family, Cassandra Cain and Damian Wayne, have a backstory of being specially raised as assassins but wanting to be something else, and thus being trained by Batman.
    • Non-action sidekicks who serve an investigative, mission control, or support roles are still a thing; how much they show up probably depends more on how useful they are for storytelling than their actual usefulness.
      • In particular, a "Watson" type is frequently necessary for Detective characters who don't monologue like a Film Noir Protagonist; that is, somebody to hear all the deductions made by the detective character, and ask some obvious questions.
  • Technology
    • Civilian technology on Earth is usually kept just barely beyond the current state of the art, to maximize "relatability".
      • Heroes and villains can invent super-science gadget and/or own giant, supposedly innovative, companies while labs have fantastic inventions for villains to steal or create the monster of the week with, but none of the stuff seems to actually get to market. Military technology is rarely better for the common soldier, but don't be surprised to see special projects that produce something (even if flawed or unreproducable) or at them having something to throw at a superpowered threat.
      • The most common exception, if the age rating requires it, is the proliferation of energy weapons.
    • But the Important Named Characters usually have access to stuff that's flat out impossible.
    • This leads to a certain tendency of Super-Inventers to be restricted in some way.
      • Several notable examples use a direct "Magic powered technology", in that the technologist's work is only functional because some superpower is allowing them to "cheat" physics (or biology or material science) in some way.
      • An alternate common approach is to make the technology in question dependent on some rare, fictional supermaterial.
  • Timeline
    • Time progresses much slower than publication history. A character may reference a plot from 15 years ago, but the events won't have occurred fifteen years ago (This becomes particularly confusing with child characters. Franklin Richards was born in a 1968 comic and didn't hit natural puberty till 2019). The exceptions to this rule are things created as historical events (such as a bounty hunter in the Wild West), and characters/events bound to World War II.
      • Notably this is the one signature element of comics that roleplaying games try to avoid. The games that managed to live long enough have had the time between editions progress in real time, with the printed characters aging and developing.
  • Unpowered Superheroes
    • They exist. They're usually impossibly well-trained and skilled, but, again, that still count as the level of training or skill in question is usually impossible for a real person.
    • Usually exist in either lower-powered settings, or are effectively just masterminds or stealth operatives.
  • Villains and Sanity
    • How insane the villains are is something of a variable from setting to setting, and villain to villain. Some villains can be "ordinary" criminals, just some of them have powers; some villains are obsessed with destroying the universe (and haven't thought through the "but that's where I keep all my stuff!" objection), and have the power to pull it off.
    • Nowdays, more rational villains are more common then they were back in the Silver Age. There's usually some flaw in their thinking, admittedly, but mostly gone are the days of inventing revolutionary and marketable technology so you can rob banks for money.
  • Weaknesses
    • Most weaknesses nowadays tend to be inherent in the powerset (characters with Super-Senses usually react badly to flashbang grenades up close, e.g.), or are some kind of time and/or power limitation (Hourman has his time limit right in his name, for example, or Green Lanterns used to be unable to use their powers on anything Yellow).
    • There are two classes of exception:
      • Superman and Kryptonite, and direct knockoffs thereof. One important thing to note is that outside of Superman, Kryptonite styled weakness become less necessary as more Superpowered individuals appear.
      • Vampire supers (and there are a few Superhero Vampires and near Vampires, along with a whole lot of villains) are subject to the usual weaknesses of their kind, as are other traditional monsters with unique weaknesses.

Notable subtypes, (sub)genres and styles[edit]

  • Street-Level: Characters, generally of low power, that fight local threats instead of global conspiracies and alien invasions.
  • Mystery Men: Low power pulp heroes, especially powerless gadget wielders set before 1942. Chief examples of this genre are the Green Hornet, the Phantom, and Doc Savage.
  • Cosmic: The exact opposite of the two above; if they're fighting deities on a regular basis, it's probably "Cosmic".
  • "Silver Age" or "Four Color": More or less what comics looked like in the 1960s. Think thirty different kinds of Kryptonite, Jimmy Olson getting new powers every issue (and then losing them right after), and iconic characters becoming total assholes for no reason. These comics were frequently written cover first, with ideas being thrown around like ticker tape at a parade, paced so fast that a reader can get whiplash from the sudden turns, and riddled with excessively soap-operaish or melodramatic storytelling, science fiction so soft it makes marshmallows look like diamonds and dialogue that sounds about as natural as the food coloring on Cheetos. Note that, when used to describe something modern, "power level" doesn't enter into it; there were a bunch of incredibly silly Batman comics (go look up Superdickery for just a sampling) and other "mundane"/"low-power" Silver Age works; what matters is the sheer insanity and weirdness.
  • "Dark Age" or "Liefeld Style": Darker And Edgier works that are exactly as stupid as the Silver Age, just in a different way. In particular, expect needless death, anti-heroes where vastly more thought was given to the design and name than personality or backstory (which were frequently so flimsy as to be nonexistant), excessive everything (cynicism, fanservice, violence, detail, guns, pouches), and art that was dynamic as fuck, but also anatomically impossible and painful to look at. (Sometimes called "The Iron Age" by people defending it, but between a crash in the industry and the tone of most notable work of the era, the name "Dark Age" has more or less stuck.)
    • There are also "Golden Age" (like "Silver Age", but with worse racism and more people dying or suffering horrific fates), "Bronze Age" (what came between the Silver and Dark Ages, and featured something of a blend of both), and "Modern Age" (roughly, what comics have looked like since the first Toby McGuire Spider-Man film). These are not as frequently used as models, for various reasons.
  • Tokusatsu (特撮, literally "special effects"): A Japanese genre of masked, transforming heroes (the better to change actors so they can film those scenes on the cheap). Often includes giant robots and size changing to allow fighting a multiple scales. Examples include Super Sentai (which Power Rangers recycles footage from), Kamen Rider, Ultraman, and the 1970s Japanese Spider-Man (which is a fascinating story all in itself).
  • Magical Girl (魔法少女): Girls change into super powered forms to fight evil (though many of the early example used their powers for other things). Unlike Toku heroes, magical girl forms generally aren't masked but instead have some kind of physical element to the transformation that hides the user's identity. Despite being strongly associated with Japan, Fawcett's 1942 introduction of Mary Marvel is the earliest proper example.
  • "Bad Girl" comics: One of the more durable trends of the Dark Age, above: Female anti-heroes (either cynical or outright "beyond good and evil", with greed and revenge being frequent motivators), usually dealing with even worse villains, not afraid to engage in some extreme ultraviolence, with some degree of supernatural powers going around, and a whole lot of sexy fanservice. There are two interesting factors: Their popularity among women was actually fairly high (Who would have guessed actually strong female protagonists would appeal to girls and women?), and their popularity (although much diminished) extends to the present day, unlike much of the legacy of the Dark Age.
  • "Deconstruction": There's a lot of not very well-thought-out use of this word in criticism of superhero comics. We'll go with the TVTropes definition, where deconstruction is more about taking a trope or story type, and either trying to play it out like it would in reality, or show the disturbing supporting tissue needed to uphold the plausibility.

Commonly Cited Non-/tg/ or /v/ Originating Settings[edit]

  • DC Comics. Most notable heroes for /tg/ purposes: Batman, Superman, Green Lantern. Most notable villains for /tg/ purposes: Darkseid, Lex Luthor, Ra's Al Ghul.
    • Watchmen, while published by DC, is worth separating all on it's own; it's the first major case brought up in "Superhero Comics as Actual Art" arguments, caused a massive shift in comics towards even darker and edgier material, and was patient zero for "Deconstruction" being applied to things outside of French Philosophy. Even today, 35 years later, it's still insanely influential.
  • Marvel Comics. Most notable heroes for /tg/ purposes: Iron Man, Spider-Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, The Punisher. Most notable villains for /tg/ purposes: Thanos, Galactus, Paste-pot Pete (that last for the idea "they can't all be winners")
    • The X-Men have, since their 1975 revival, and particularly since the 90s, been sort of their own continuity, almost-but-not-quite separate from the main Marvel one.
  • Various adaptions of the above. Most notable is the inexorable Marvel Cinematic Universe and various animated versions of DC and Marvel's characters.
  • A few anime/manga imitate western styles with notable examples including "Anpanman" (book run: 1975-2013, ending the year of the original author's death. Anime run: 1988-present, with over 1300(!) episodes aired and 30 full-length movies), "My Hero Academia" and "One Punch Man"
    • "One Punch Man" is of interest because it's a series that centers around an interesting twist on the idea of a superhero: The world's strongest man is also something of a pathetic loser.
  • The Super Hero Time programming block of Super Sentai (which was and is mined for stock footage to create Power Rangers) and Kamen Rider.
  • Sailor Moon: The only magical girl anime western normalfags have heard of. As such it's the one shallow western "parody" ever derives from, and even then they don't do much with it beyond the surface level.
  • Pretty Cure/PreCure: Bucking the trend of magical girls being aimed exclusively at young girls, PreCure takes the unusual direction of simultaneously marketing itself to men with disposable income 16-35 by making the fights extremely physical. Airs adjacent to Super Hero Time and is widely considered an unofficial member.
  • Wild Cards, a setting masterminded by the same George R.R. Martin of Game of Thrones.
  • The "Fate" (of Fate/Stay Night) franchise; particularly those parts that involve Shirou Emiya. While the Fate stuff in general that involves Summons can be fairly termed "Supers under Masquerade", Shirou's ideals and powers are such that many people class him as a "superhero deconstruction".
  • Worm. Go to the blue link to see more about it.

Supers Roleplaying (Or: /tg/ Relevance)[edit]

There have been plenty of Supers roleplaying games. Here are some of the more notable ones:

Footnotes[edit]

  1. Video games have their own separate series of cans of worms that parallel "relatability", but also frequently diverge from it heavily
  2. For the former: "Horror comics are back, sort of. Hey, this Heap character was a good horror character, and he's out of print (and thus not likely to get us sued)"; for the latter, "What can we do to have a hero team that allows us to talk about discrimination?".
  3. The name derives from a common trick in jewellery: Metal foil is put behind a gem to make its features much clearer (and the gem as a whole shinier) in the light; similarly, the implicit background of one character makes some hidden features visible in another character.
  4. To provide one notable example, the Kingpin (more fully, "The Kingpin of Crime") started out as a Spider-Man foe, but is now much more associated with Daredevil, because the two have better opposing chemistry (to start with, Spider-Man is about "everyday shlub superhero", while Daredevil is more about "fixing the crime problem and criminal justice system", and the Kingpin is usually a good representative of almost everything wrong with both, making him a better fit for the latter hero).