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Superheroes and The World of Genetics

Copyright Sean McGinity ©2003

Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion

In the last few years there's been this growing community of gamers looking for something different. Although the whole genre of RPG games started out as fantasy based, the community has expanded into other genres, including superheroes.

The great thing about superhero RPGs is that they take elements of other genres and mix them up into a new form. There are elements of science fiction (hi-tech weaponry), fantasy (the superheroes themselves), and horror (other-worldly monsters that attack the Earth).

Besides the different elements within the superhero games, there are different styles out there to cater to any type of gamer. Players can play their favorite comicbook characters such as Spider-Man™, Batman™, or Spawn™, inhabit their universe, and go toe to toe with their most famous arch-nemesis'. Many gamers assume that this is all the superhero RPG provides. There is so, so much more!

The Marvel Super Heroes Role Playing Game put out by TSR was the system that popularised the genre. For myself, the system holds a lot of nostalgia as it was the first RPG I played. Although I've played my share of RPGs throughout the years, I always go back to the old Marvel system. It was simple enough for a non-gamer to pick up with little preparation, and kept the dice to d100 so there's no fumbling with assorted dice. The entire system revolved around one table called the Universal Table. Every roll used the Table to gauge success or failure. From a Gamemaster's perspective, the system was quite simple to run, and easy enough to lure new players into.

So you don't want to play in the Marvel or DC Universes? The latest generation of game designers have brought new concepts to the table, and a host of new superhero RPG s have sprouted. All of the new systems have their own universes that you can play in, each different than the other. If you aren't happy with one system, there are many more to choose from! Some of the systems even allow you to create you very own world so the Gamemaster can virtually create any type, even one more reminiscent to your own.

So you don't want to be Spider-Man™? All the new systems have great character creation within them that allows you to play your very own superhero. You can design your character exactly the way you want, wielding the powers you always dreamed of, or even powers you had never heard of. You can still play the boy scout superhero campaign if that appeals to you, or you can play the gritty urban drama where the character has to kill to survive.

This grittier edge is one way Superhero RPG's reflect the modern trend in comics.

Current day Marvel Comics are not the Marvel Comics of the 1980's. Marvel has changed the content of their books, even adding an adult line with more violence, sex, and stronger language. Even the general books such as the Avengers and Spider-Man have a more adult edge to them. Comics aren't just for kids anymore, and the kids that used to read them have grown up.

Not interested in playing a superhero? You can play the vigilante, the villain, or the mad tyrant. Currently, supervillains have taken a larger spotlight, and their once anarchistic behavior has been dulled. The villains have as many fan letters as the heroes, and the heroes themselves have gotten more cunning and less friendly. If neither hero nor villain appeals, your choice might be the neutral character that straddles both sides of the law, or a galactic entity.

Unfortunately all this modernisation left the Marvel Super Heroes Role Playing Game somewhat outdated, in my humble opinion. The general mechanics of the system are still okay, but I feel some house rules can add flavour to a rather bland original design. As well, what the Gamemaster does with the campaign and its settings can enrich the black and white world of 80's superhero gaming. A while back I followed my own advice and came up with my own superhero world loosely based on the Marvel RPG; the campaign world of Genetics.

As with current comic story lines and plots, I chose to have my world reflect a more gritty, realistic outlook, with harder-edged sensibilities. The world of Genetics does not consist of hundreds of incredibly high-powered superheroes and villains. Yes, it does have its fair share of super-powered people, but the levels of such characters are much lower. The military can still come in and take control of situations. If there is a threat to the world, the nations do not just hold back and wait for the superheroes to come to the rescue. The military takes things into their own hands. The world simply does not rely on superheroes. In fact, vigilante super-beings are held responsible for their actions.

Some superbeings use their powers for good-their own good. If someone has been mutated to have higher than normal intelligence, they might use that power to get themselves a job at NASA. This is not viewed as selfish. Those with superhuman speed might use their power to become a track runner. Superbeings are generally busy living their own lives. It is the police forces and the military, who are responsible for maintaining law.

The superbeings consist of an eclectic group: mutates (genetically enhanced beings), mutants (next generation mutates), hi-tech wonders (regular humans in possession of tech), magic wielders (normal humans trained to channel ambient magical energies), aliens (the general public is unaware of alien life on the planet and confuses aliens with mutates), and hybrids of the above.

The world of Genetics has some similarities to our own world. The level of technology available to the general public mirrors our own; the technological advances made in the world are in the possession of the government, the medical community, and corporations. So the day-to-day life for the average citizen is no different than in our own world, unless they have money or work for the government. That doesn't mean that higher-level technology doesn't reach the streets. There is a thriving black market for these things.

The mutate community enjoys a status as special citizens. Those mutates in need can rely on the Parahuman Fund. The Parahuman Fund was created to help those mutates with permanent and temporary disabilities, to help them find work and generally get back on their feet. As genetic experimentation tends to wipe a subject's mind clean, reestablishing their identities (or creating new ones) has become the government's responsibility.

There are several people and organisations that are considered world players; briefly some of these are:

Genetica. Genetica is the number two genetics company in the world; a ruthless company willing to do anything to further their science, regardless of the costs. These risks have paid off for the company, gaining them several high-profile government contracts with the US and Canada, which turn a blind eye to their activities. As a result of early human experimentation, which they publicly deny, Genetica is responsible for most of the initial mutates. It continues to perform illegal experiments in secret labs across Canada and the US. Genetica employs many mutates to guard these secrets and has performed acts of terrorism on its rival Deoxy to destroy its competition.

Deoxy. Deoxy is a genetics company with a good reputation with the public, and has increased its business through a "goodwill" movement. The company is run by Tahnee Savage, a young brilliant entrepreneur who also moonlights as Guardian, a hi-tech battlesuit-powered parahuman. Savage believes in helping the world with genetics, not experimenting on helpless victims. She is very vocal in discrediting Genetica, and wants nothing more than to put them out of business.

Guardian publicly employs many mutates in various positions within the company, and was the first company to push the Parahuman Fund.

Hired Hand. The world's most renowned detective agency, Hired Hand takes any case, regardless of the complexity, from missing people and divorce investigation to international cases and parahuman investigation. The agency employs a group of parahumans for potentially dangerous cases. Business genius Howard Jeffries is the man behind Hired Hand, a capable man in a fight himself.

The Canadian Super Team. With the threat of parahumans becoming terrorists, specifically with the group called Strength, the Canadian government created its own task force responsible for protecting Canada. The team consisted of parahumans that eventually gained a modicum of celebrity. The team was short-lived. After three altercations with the terrorist group Strength that they barely survived, and several problems with government officials, the team folded.

Currently, a high-profile lawyer by the name of Richard "Dick" Gemini is attempting to recreate the team, having licensed the name. The new team is responsible to the public and has no affiliation with the government.

Strength. Strength is a terrorist group employing a large group of parahumans with names out of mythology. Their goals and motivations seem to fluctuate, but seem mostly interested in anarchy. They sell their services to the highest bidder, but they seem to have no loyalty to anyone, including themselves (they once publicly executed two of their own members for failure). The group had several altercations with the Canadian Super Team, and while it was unable to gain a decisive victory over them, managed to erode that team's self confidence to the point of breaking them up.

Katharta Inc. Katharta lists itself as an exporter of diamonds, but is really a far-reaching company with various affiliations world-wide. The company collects ancient artefacts from various cultures, with a particular interest in Tibetan culture.

Manus Katharta, a man of apparent European descent runs the company, although his actual ancestry is questionable. Manus Katharta appears to have lived an extraordinarily long life, at least a couple of centuries long. Katharta is a cruel man, using his cruelty in his business functions. He employs several bodyguards and servants, all of which are either magically altered mutates, or magic wielder's themselves. Manus himself is actually an incredibly powerful magic wielder, with power enough to imbue power into others (to create mutates).

Forestere, Inc. Thomas Forestere is one of the old-school "superheroes" of the world. Possessing no powers save for an incredibly long life span, Forestere has spent his life training to become the best man-for-hire available. His career spans several decades, although the general public isn't aware of it. His name has become a public one, and is revered as a "superhero" (although he himself has always hated the distinction).

Forestere never shied away from the spotlight. He used his fame to gain contracts with the government as a consultant. With the government jobs came jobs from company contracts, and Forestere built his wealth. Forestere, Inc. was forged as a independent consultant and specialist in the matters of security and protection, and as such gathers many incredible objects of reality-warping mystical power and secures them away from people and organisations that would exploit them

Like the major world powers, but on a smaller scale, the heroes of the world of Genetics are also representative of a grittier, more realistic world. These heroes made their mark in a campaign I called SYMKA- after one of the plot hooks. In that campaign there was room for a selfless superhero like Silver whose main goal is to help others, a cautious hero like Stick, a loner with few loyalties like El Tigre, as well as a secretive hero motivated by self-interests like Gideon. These heroes, and others in my world, are not your typical hero archetypes; they have varied backgrounds, outlooks, and motivations, and as such reflect a more realistic world.

Of course, the players in my campaign had a lot to do with the direction the heroes took, whether noble or selfish. After all, that was what the whole effort of creating my world was for, to present a world according to my vision and then see how they affect and change that world. What an adventure! Wouldn't it make a great comicbook? Comicbooks are so rich with adventure of every kind; being able to be part of that world and live the life of the superhero is a real kick, both for the GM as well as the players.

If your curiosity's been piqued, where do you begin finding the system that suits your needs? There seems to be so many systems to choose from. Heroplay provides a good listing of what's out there with some competent reviews attached, as well as contact with the online superhero RPG community. ( Or ask your local RPG store to recommend a system for you.

Editor's Note:

Spider-Man is a trademark property of Marvel Comics Group. Batman is a trademark property of DC Comics. Spawn is a trademark property of Image Comics.

SYMKA and the World of Genetics are the intellectual property of Sean McGinity - all rights reserved.

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