Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Small Town Heroes

"You're a stranger here. Oh, a superhero? We've had a couple of those. The county isn't that small.
"Ayuh, Tommy Church tried being a dark avenger of the night and all. We had to get him off the corn silo a couple of times. He was stuck, like. Turns out there's noplace to go from there.
"Mary Sheridan got hit by them gamma rays and got real strong. Her husband Case, he kinda used her instead of replacing that old tractor, and, well, Case had an accident. Mary was clear the other side of the county at the time, though the OPP didn't look particularly close. She's done all right since then. Still hasn't replaced the tractor, though.
"Oh, you're looking for supervillains? I'd suggest the Tim Horton's by the high school. Had my car keyed there. 'Course, it were prom night; a bunch of us were waiting to drive our kids home in case they were plastered."

There's something about the whole "small town heroes" thing that appeals to me, even if "small town" in this context means "small city." Superheroes really are a phenomenon of the large metropolis: the equivalent of New York or L.A. or Tokyo or London. Most of the tropes associated with supers get bent or completely inverted when there isn't much crime, when you can name all the town's prostitutes or drug dealers without thinking a long time, or where there just aren't tall buildings to swing off or brood from.

Comics have played with this several times (I know Spider-Man has been stuck without buildings to swing from, and I suspect that Great Lakes Avengers played with it, but I didn't read GLA.)

Still, how could you do a game about them?

One possibility is the "school for supers" campaign. The school is placed out here in the country because, well, there's less to destroy if one of the kids loses control. Yes, sometimes they have to pay for a cow or a crop, but on the whole, it's cheaper than the insurance rates would be. Mostly the interaction would be in the school, but there could be some interesting "Townies versus Students" stuff, along with the kid who has no powers but wants to be a masked vigilante and wants so badly to get into that school.

Another possibility is to have the Smallville "meteor monster of the week" scenario: Somewhere near Mule's Foot, Arkansas, the Gengineer left a secret lair that's not detectible. His gadgets and equipment are all over the county or counties, and are creating supers on a regular basis. "Those Foreman boys! They're so susceptible to the Gene Virus. I swear, they're three years behind because of all the time they've missed in school on account of being monsters or whatever. Good thing an infection only lasts two weeks. Stop them, dear, and then you can have another piece of pie."

A third is one that I used in an unfinished short story: they really are the only supers in the area, except for visitors. If they're teenagers, the school has had to put in special equipment to deal with them; they probably get ostracized by other kids; people are asking them when they're going to move to the big city "like the real supers." And then someone with actual super powers comes to town.
  • If you're doing a convention adventure or a one-off, it's a villain or villain group, looking for a place to lie low or where there's no opposition. "Look, we can hit seven banks before Windmiller can fly here from Megacity." The PCs have to deal with it. (And in my unfinished story, that was the situation: the protagonist had no intention of being a hero, his friend was a gadgeteer and wanted to be a hero, and then the Cool Kids came to town to rob banks, and then it got mixed in with the puberty/romance sort of thing.)
  • If you're doing an on-going session, it's a hero trying to retire. The hero can function as a mentor of sorts, and half the opposition is old foes looking to settle a score. The retired hero might not even have powers any more, or might be a trained vigilante but has suffered a crisis of nerve or lost a limb or something. It's up to the locals to stop the foes. As the campaign goes on, the heroes start to accumulate their own enemies, of course.
If I were going to write up a campaign setting, I would choose the very last one.

Another possibility is that the PCs are a mix of locals and transplants: perhaps this is where the government resettled all the victims of the Power Virus, who have powers but a tendency to go mad and try to take over the world (well, county: some of them aren't that powerful). You get some interaction with the locals, possibly including the retired heroes or the ones sent to watch over them ("Please don't send me to watch them! My mom lives there! I will have to put up with questions about whether I'm serious about anyone seven days a week!"), and you get interaction between the people affected with the virus.

A last possibility is that it's the location of a supers retirement home. I've been thinking about writing up The Golden Age retirement home, but in previous incarnations I've always had it in the mountains or on an island. There's no reason it couldn't be someplace rural.