Days of Shadows Past
The first campaign had a fairly simple twist: something had occurred which had made superheroic life extremely difficult. During our session 0, we took some time between safety and character creation to collaboratively decide what that would be. I offered several options which we could flesh out:
- Government crack-down and control over superhero activities
- Mass public damage due to a superheroic event
- Group of respected heroes went bad in some mass, public way
- Barely stopped invasion or outbreak which has been connected with supers
- Deaths or vanishings of large portion of the superhero community
- "The Thanos snap"
- Something else
The players took the ideas and ran with them—combining several into a sequence. Essentially a large number of established heroes had suddenly turned evil, they’d gone on a rampage, including smashing sections of the moon and sending them hurtling towards Earth. While that disaster had been averted, many of these former heroes remained at large—with a broken moon as a reminder in the sky. AEGIS had stepped up activities, limiting what supers could do, and deploying anti-meta units.
Then during character creation, some of the players tied their stories to this. One decided that their Lex Luthor-analogue father was behind the mind-control of the heroes. He’d followed that up by supplying AEGIS with specialized weaponry. Another PC was the son of a great superhero who’d now become Aftermath, leader of these super-villains. Aftermath had even drawn his son into villainy for a short time. Another PC’s tech had been stolen and was the basis for the mind-altering device. Our Harbinger had, come from the future to stop all of this. And our non-powered Beacon, the team leader, had a tangential connection to this, having become famous for fighting against these villains.
It worked really well—the players integrated themselves into the story of the world more tightly than I’d imagined. It created a little darkness they were fighting against right from the start. It was a small change, but tweaked the vanilla Masks set up.
The second campaign, running right now, has a slightly more involved set up. Here’s the basic premise:
Everyone will choose a superhero (or villain) from an existing property (DC, Marvel, Image, whatever). They don't have to be teen characters, they could be adults. But you will run a “Year One,” just starting out, teen version of that character. You'll select a playbook which fits with that character's archetype. You can rework and recontextualize the character's identity and background or use lots of elements of the established backstory. We'd use this to build a new world and heroic mythos. Your choice of characters establishes facts about the world.
1. Please avoid dark, gritty, or murderous characters (Punisher, The Boys, Kick Ass, or anything like that). I reserve the right to ask you to make another pick.
2. Please avoid any playbooks which have time elements or have characters which start out split from humanity. So no Newborn, Innocent, Harbinger, or Nomad. Outsider and Transformed are allowed.
3. Some playbooks exclude others-- so if someone takes one, the other one's off the table. Specifically you can take the Delinquent OR the Reformed. You can take the The Soldier (but I want to check in if someone then wants the Legacy or Protégé).
This is a set up I’ve done a couple of times before with Mutants and Masterminds. The players selected Daredevil (leaning towards the TV depiction), She-Hulk (with the classic shot by gangsters origin), Doctor Strange (tweaked to be more of a young “chosen one” character), and Catwoman (in classic BTAS form).
We did fairly standard Masks character creation with this. For example, they chose Doc Ock (but from the Into the Spiderverse version) as the villain they fought in their initial adventure. I had each player also select one villain and one hero outside of other established facts. That added Doctor Doom, The Penguin, and Super-Solider (from Amalgam Comics) among others to our universe.
The Year One frame offers a couple of great opportunities. First, it lets players play character they enjoy, telling stories centered on them. Second, everyone gets to tweak those characters and consider what they’d be in a new, variant context. Third, it lets the MC lift and remix existing characters. So if someone’s brought Mister Miracle in as a PC, the MC gets a chance to play with all those great characters.
The best resources the MC has for running a Year One is “alternate design” or “alternate costume” art resources. Check on Pinterest with Marvel, DC, Superhero, Supervillain or similar keywords. Find and use cool new versions with different costumes. Also consider looking for Rule 63 or Gender Swapped characters. Or hunt for different time periods or cultural contexts (like Steampunk versions).
For example in session two the PCs encountered what first assumed was a villain, but turned out to be a version of the Fantastic Four who had not come out well from the accident which created them. I’d found a great image of the FF with some tweaks to use as the basis (different costumes, a grey-block version of the thing, the Human Torch had blue flames, etc.
The one caution I would give for this set up is to not assume everyone has all the comic book knowledge. Explain your riffs and don't make a plot turn on an obscure bit of trivia. It's a good idea to check in about everyone's level of familiarity and what kinds of sources they know (TV, movies, comics, something else).
These are optional moves which the MC can tweak. The idea is to add color to your city and location. Astro City’s probably the best comic series to engage with these kinds of ideas and it’s worth looking at for further inspiration. These draw on the kinds of moves presented in the Masks Halcyon City supplement and Cartel’s location cards.
A Visit to The Fixer
When you go to see semi-villain “The Fixer” looking for resources, contacts, or a lead, roll +(Label of your choice). Base your pick on how you present yourself to them.
On a 12+ they’re impressed with your initiative and attitude. They will give you what you want, but they will now be fascinated with your career. This fascination may range from trying to fix you up with someone to sending enemies to test your strength. On a 10+ they give you what you want—though if may not exactly be the form or approach you were expecting. They’re kind of a villain after all.
On a 7-9 you get the 10+ result, but with a cost. Choose one: give The Fixer influence over you; they tell you an unwelcome truth about someone you know, roll Take a Powerful Blow; or they shift your labels. The MC chooses whether they raise the label you rolled with (feeding your ego) or lower the label you rolled with (mocking your approach).
On a miss, they give you what you want but you suffer all three costs. Alternately you get what you want, but the MC may narrate a brief scene of how this was all a cunning trap which will be sprung in the future.
Down at the Mall
When you go to the Mall or other big pubic space to unwind, clear a condition and roll +Mundane. On a 10+ you have a good time and even find a little gift for yourself or someone you know. On a 7-9, you see someone you care about hanging out with someone they shouldn’t (someone their family would disapprove of, a supervillain, your romantic partner, a bad-for-them-ex, etc.). On a miss, something happens which plays into your alienation from the mundane world. Shift Mundane down and shift Freak or Danger up (MC choice). It could be seeing others happy, an off-hand comment about those dumb teen heroes, or even a villain attack.
Abandoned Super-Base (based on Jason Cordova's Labyrinth move)
When you attempt to find your way through the abandoned super-base, describe how you do it, and then roll (+Label of your choice).
*On a 12+, hold 2
*On a 10+, hold 1.
*On a 7-9, hold 1, but you also encounter a security measure.
*On a miss, you encounter a security measure. Shift your chosen label down.
*On a 1-3, also lose all hold.
If multiple team members navigate in turn, their hold is pooled together for the entire team. Track which labels are rolled. No one can roll a previously rolled Label for this move until all labels have been rolled once. To find one of the base’s secrets or treasures, spend 1 hold and describe the room it is found in. You may spend 3 hold at any time to find the entrance to center of the base.
Brimstone’s a hangout spot for supervillain teens, powered characters on the margins, and a few hench regulars. You can find it in a weird basement walkdown of a dying mall. By day it’s a coffee shop/hangout spot. At night it gets more dingy, with performances general underground bar. When you go to Brimstone and manage to fit in, you can add the following two questions to Assess the Situation.
*Who here’s involved with some kind of job, caper, or plot?
*Who here’s just a poser?
When you spend time with disgraced former hero Willforce at his collectible shop, take +1 Forward to Pierce the Mask on an existing super who he dishes the dirt on.
When you go to a sportsball event with your friends to relax and reestablish bonds, roll +Mundane. On a hit you have a great time and rebuild some connections. Choose: take influence over one of them, shift labels, clear a condition, add two team to the team pool (if multiple PCs present), activate one of your team moves (if appropriate). On a miss, recriminations bubble to the surface. If there’s an NPC present they reveal an unpleasant truth, hidden anger, or a secret which will hurt you. If there’s only PCs present, say what mundane thing the argument breaks out over. Reset the team pool to 1, if it’s 2+ or to 0 if there’s only 1 team left.
When your team infiltrates the school for supervillains, the team leader rolls +Superior or +Freak. If the latter, your team is coming in as weird outsiders. If the former, you’re coming in as elites. On a 12+ you get in with no problems and your cover stands up to scrutiny. Someone makes friends with the leaders of one of the school’s cliques. On a 10+ you get in with no problems and your cover’s intact.
On a 7-9, you get in, but there’s a complication: one team member’s cover cracks (MC choice), you make enemies with the head of one of the cliques right away, you spot someone who could blow the whole thing open, (other options negotiated by the table). On a miss, you’ve stepped into it. You’ve raised suspicions and are put into a challenge right away to show just how villainous you really are.
When you break into Stellar Lab’s high-tech facility to research something, roll +Superior or +Savior. On a 10+ you get the answers you need. You may ask one question from either Analyze the Situation or Pierce the Mask and you make declare one fact about the situation. This declaration shouldn’t counter the existing fiction without a reason why and can’t be about a fellow PC. The MC may veto or negotiate declarations.
On a 7-9, you can either ask the question or declare a fact. Alternately you can do both, but Stellar Labs discovers your entry and has hard evidence about your break-in. On a miss, you stumble into something. You’re caught by the person you least want to get caught by; the MC chooses.
When you go to the superhero museum to seek inspiration and solace, roll +Mundane. On a hit you may clear a condition or shift labels. Say what hero’s action or sacrifice has spoken to you. On a 10+ something about that hero’s actions ties into or reveals something about your current challenges. Collaborate with the GM to say what that is.
On a miss, you learn something unpleasant about one of your heroes. This could be from a back-corner display, hidden records, or a talkative guide. Say who the hero is and what they did. Then mark a condition.
When you go to the ACF Convention Center to indulge your geek-hobby roll +Freak. On a 10+ you find a rare item or meet a beloved creator. Clear a condition. You also discover someone in your circles (schoolmate, villain, etc.) shares your interest. Say who. Take influence over them. On a 7-9 you have a good time—choose one of the 10+ options (clear a condition or gain a fellow enthusiast). On a miss, it doesn’t go well. Choose one: someone’s mockery of your geekdom or cred checking gets to you, you end up with fake or broken merch, or a personal hero betrays your vision of them. Roll Take a Powerful Blow.
Bring It On
When you go to the entertainment center to compete as a team against rivals say what you’re competing in (karaoke, cosplay competition, skating, dancing, etc.). Choose which Label will govern decide the competition and then find the weakest link in your team (i.e. the lowest value for that label). They roll +(chosen label).
On a 10+ you blow the doors off the place and leave your rivals in the dust. Everyone can choose to add a team to the team pool or clear a condition. Additionally choose one group or important person who has their attitude towards you shift positively. On a 7-9 as above but you also gain a hated rival who is now determined to embarrass all of you.
On a miss you overstep and your rivals crush you humiliatingly. Say what opportunity or connection you lose as a result. Name one NPC who used to dig the team, but now thinks you’re weak sauce.