San Francisco Bay Guardians
The Original Short Campaign Description
I had originally planned on using Fate as the game engine, but have switched plans to Worlds In Peril, which is an Apocalypse World hack. The mechanics are super-simple for players: you narrate what your character does, and if as GM I think the outcome is uncertain I call for you to roll a Move that requires a roll.
Characters are defined by a few big things: an Origin playbook, a Drive playbook, a few simple stats, background and powers descriptions, and a list of Bonds to people, organizations, and entities. The playbooks give characters access to special Moves, and the Drive provides a mechanism for character advancement.
Powers are described narratively: a general powers description plus a list of specific effects you know you can and cannot do. If you want an effect that isn’t on your list, you can do a Move called Push; if it succeeds then you do it, and if it succeeds well you get to add it to your list, so powers narratively build over time.
Bonds have an important mechanical effect. To help succeed in a Move, you can Burn A Bond, weakening your relationship with another character, mechanically building in the soap opera aspect of comics.
For players, there’s not much more to the system than that, so you don’t need to sweat it too much, but you can read the play example from the rules to get the feel.
The simplicity of the system makes the mechanics of character generation pretty straightforward. We will discuss character concepts at the table in the first session in order to build a team that works well enough together (but not too well, because we do want soap opera).
Characters will be supers in the middle range of power operating out of the SF Bay Area in the early 1980s.
It would be best to walk in with a clear character concept or two. Have some rough backstory in mind, and a sense of your character’s powers, which we can sharpen at the table. Since Bonds are important, give some thought to your character’s relationships. Further down I’ll point out a few organizations in the world you may want to have relationships with.
To repeat what I said early on about powers:
- Characters should have powers that mean they outclass any normal human, but not so powerful that they can sweep through capable, well-prepared groups of people (like a platoon of Marines) like they were mooks, Superman-style.
- Have something super to do in a fight, something super to do not-in-a-fight, and something cool normal-human-possible to do not-in-a-fight.
- Weird, cool powers are preferred. Spiderman is the ideal here: throwing webs and climbing walls are eccentric, interesting powers compared to flying and punching really hard.
- And of course you’ll want a cool name for your character. Mercifully, in this universe the Somethingman naming convention never happened.
I have a mountain of world building notes but they’re in chaos. So a few key things to keep in mind.
The year is 1982. It’s a lot like our world, but there a million small and medium sized differences. A few big things:
- There are supers. A few thousand worldwide at your characters’ level of power, maybe a hundred thousand with low-level powers. They are concentrated in the industrialized world for reasons that are poorly understood.
- Supers’ abilities all have a generalized explanation. Exotic hormones that only some people have & respond to activate sequences in human junk DNA that enable powers. Thus most powered people get onset of their powers in adolescence, though this varies. Artificial stimulation of powers is possible, but very risky.
- Supers have always been with us, but until the 1930s they were very rare. At that time, for reasons unknown, the supers population exploded, giving rise to comic-book-style costumed “superheroes”.
- Superheroes are a part of pop culture. Many of them are famous and popular celebrities.
But there are powers which face stigma. Powers that are permanently morphologically disfiguring are treated with bigotry, and due to some famous ugly incidents in the 1950s psi powers like telepathy and illusion-casting are considered very frightening.
- There are no publicly known space alien species. (That doesn’t mean they don’t exist …)
- There are lots of alternate dimensions full of weird beasties and energies. Among these are demon dimensions which can be contacted by magical means.
- The Cold War is hotter. Stalin is still alive, still in charge, and just as evil as he was in our world.
- The US and the Soviet Union both have moonbases and fairly impressive permanent space stations. The US has a crew on its way home from the first crewed landing on Mars.
Three key organizations to know about:
The Global League Of Power is an international “good guy” organization of heroes founded in the 1950s. They have a core group of very powerful supers, a modest circle of full League members with strong support from and obligations to the organization, and a large circle of League affiliates who have limited access to League resources, mostly around information exchange. League affiliates can expect to get a phone call from the League if something big happens.
The big guns of the League are the powerful Russian hero Sentinel (red suit, blue cape, flies), Amazon (very strong, magic powers), Captain (ageless American WWII soldier), and Magician (able to project complex, glowing blue force fields). But you should hope not to cross paths with these guys.
Player characters will likely start as League affiliates. This gives them access to League communications and the ability to connect to the League database on a need-to-know basis. Affiliates are obligated to protect civilians and avoid serious run-ins with local government authorities.
The League is nominally apolitical, assisting with disasters and super-crime that threaten civilian life and major property, but they’re also known to put quiet pressure on tyrannical governments.
The Brotherhood For A Greater Humanity is an international alliance of supers founded in the mid 1960s devoted to opposing the oppression and exploitation of supers around the world. They have no respect for law, but they do have respect for human life, and will protect it … but they value the lives and freedoms of supers more.
Their leader, Victor Frankenstein is our grand, ambiguous anti-hero / villain, comparable to Magneto. Like another supervillain named Victor, he is a powerful, arrogant man who has conquered a small Eastern European country to use as his base of operations. He has been known to fight both against and alongside the League depending upon the circumstances.
Player characters are invited to start with either positive or negative relationships with the Brotherhood if they like.
The Federal Bureau Of Special Empowered Humans Affairs is the US government’s main public agency for dealing with supers, founded in the late 1930s as a division of the FBI which only recently split off as its own agency after the death of J. Edgar Hoover. They are part of the Department of Justice, and their main business is dealing with supercriminals.
Like the FBI, they have a mixed history as both responsible law enforcement and a force of political repression.
They sponsor a super-team, The Patriots, who are as earnest and vaguely creepy as that sounds.
A word about technology:
Generally, technology is the same as it was in our world in the early ’80s. But there are a few important exceptions.
- There are no nuclear weapons. WWII ended earlier and attention was focused on supers as decisive weapons, so the Manhattan Project never happened.
- Governments, wealthy individuals, supers, and powerful corporations have access to “advanced technology” which basically matches 2015 technology in most respects.
- “Advanced technology” also includes crude, clanking anthropomorphic robots (destroy!), simple energy weapons (set for stun!), and better crewed spacecraft than we have now.
- Super-technologies of course can do all kinds of crazy stuff, but all of them are tuned by hand by superpowered gadgeteers. Walter Hughes (aka Ironhand) of the Patriots can make powerful, compact free energy reactors, but he cannot mass-manufacture them.