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TheQuestionMan

Dystopian Champions - Campaign Setting

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Greetings HEROphiles, i've been doing a lot of reading and reviewing and supporting others campaign settings.

 

Premise : The PCs are superheroes in a dystopian champion setting I will be drawing inspiration from Brave New World, Exteme Earth, and random sources from my comic boxes

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Days of Future Past obviously springs to mind, as does any Naziworld or morality flipped alternate Earth (DC's Earth-3 for example, where the Crime Syndicate of America run the show and Luthor is a hero). Watchmen clearly has a place.

 

I toyed with something like this ages ago (didn't get much work done on it). My idea was something along the lines of the characters being political prisoners who are subjected to experimentation and develop superpowers. I think it was a Naziworld, now that I think about it... I may have done more work than I thought a minute ago, since I now recall a fairly detailed alternate timeline running up through WW2 and beyond  :)

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Even as much as I'd love spending an evening punching those rat bastid's in the head, all things considered these days "Nazi world" may be a little too close to home for some people.

Although on a side note At one point early in my GMing career I had a hard time getting my players to seriously engage their enemies and we would spend whole nights on combats with mooks recovering and returning to battle, that these hero's should be plowing thru.

It all changed the night I had as the villains members of the "New Reich". That team steped up and beat the living snog out of those guys and stole their lunch money!

This lead to my number one rule of gaming....Everybody loves hitting Nazis!

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Dystopian covers so much. I think you should take a leaf from FATE and come up with a few campaign aspects (statements that define the background). In FATE there is a mechanical link between them and the gameplay. In HERO there is not the same mechanical link though simply writing them can help define the aims of the GM and the themes he would like to explore in the game.

 

I think that each player having to come up with a similar aspect also helps the GM think about how the player sees his character interact with the campaign.

 

You at the point where you know what you want the broad themes of the campaign to be?

 

Doc

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Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross is a great dystopian example.  The heroes are gone, and the world fills with metahumans who are less concerned with the greater good than with fighting each other, regardless of damage to property and innocent lives.  Then Superman and the Justice League return--and proceed to make things worse.

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...and of course there's the original Naziworld classic, Phillip K Dick's Man in the High Castle, which is getting a big revival through the small screen at the moment.

 

+1 on Kingdom Come. Possibly best used if you want to come back to an old campaign with the original players running aged up versions of their old characters. I'm doing that soon (20 year update), though I won't be making things Dystopic - some of the kids and other new heroes have gone bad, but for the most part Heroic Legacy has stuck. Plus I only have one player from the Old Days left in the group, so him playing the son of his old character works better in this case.

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The RPG where all the heroes were killed by aliens and only the supervillains can stop them--Necessary Evil.

 

Out of curiosity, did the RPG give a reason as to why the aliens would kill all the heroes but leave the villains alive?

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The problem with original dystopian settings is that it can take a lot of setting material to get the players sufficiently motivated enough to punch everyone in the face. One of the advantages of Nazi World is that the players are already motivated to punch everyone in the face, you don't really need to tell them anything else. Compared to say, Worm, it can take tens of thousands of words to convince you that everything needs a good punch in the face.

 

So unless you are the sort of person who likes to write a large amount of campaign background material and your players are motivated enough to read it, you probably need an immediate hook to motivate the players

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And since no one has thrown out a sample distopia beyond the standard 'Nazi World' here's one:

 

The Green Revolution was not Televised

Because of comic book physics, you can't develop fertilizer from petro-chemicals. So while crop production got a massive boost for both pesticides and farming mechanization, there weren't mass amounts of fertilizer available to renew the soil. This meant that great increases in farming technology were able to greatly boost the population, until the soil ran out. So any wars past around 1930 had food security as a major issue. For example, WW2 really was about Germany trying to seize Russian farmland, and exterminating all those useless mouths. Because no distopia is really so bad that Nazis couldn't make things worse.

 

And there are a lot of secondary effects.

Examples:

dust bowls and similar arising from over farming

Skirmishes and sometimes outright wars fought over fishing grounds, even though the oceans have been horribly overfished.

 

Other things to note:

things that might sound like a simple solution to this problem either only help a little bit, or just make things worse. At least, until the PCs come along.

 

In a normal world, the PCs might be willing to let the guy who is stealing bread to feed is family go, but when there really isn't enough bread to go around, whose faces are they going to punch in to fix things?

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Project Superpowers, Wanted, and Necessary Evil - All dealt with Villains through nececity becoming heroic.

 

Brave New World, Extreme Earth, and Black Summer. All feal with corrupt governments.

 

Kingdom Come, etc... All dealt with fallen Superheroes.

 

 

Tough choices, especially adapting to Champion Earth.

 

What If?/Else Worlds - The Axis won WWII? Who are the Resistance?

 

Cheers

 

QM

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A lot depends on your idea of dystopia.  I'm sure many on both sides of the metaphorical aisle find the current state of the United States to be dystopic.  Whether you are with certain groups who label themselves as Black Lives Matter who claim that there is literally an active racial genocide in the offing, or you believe that the "liberals and social scientists" are despoiling the culture and plunging it into chaos a la Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein.  There are tons of Doomsdayist out there;  I mean Isis is an apocalyptic group and I suspect most people would agree that the society they have created in territory formerly controlled by Syria and Iraq is significantly dystopic.  There are those who believe that the developed world will simply default on its debts (or rack up so much that no one is willing to lend them money any more, like the crisis narrowly avoided in Greece) and thereby plunge the entire interconnected and dependent economic system into chaos.

 

You don't need to do a whole lot of world building, there are a lot of current dystopic societies and many more than need just a tiny push to become so. 

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To be honest, speaking as an outsider the current state of affairs in the US doesn't look that dystopic to me. Just a bit dysfunctional.

 

In terms of terrorist chaos on a per population basis you're doing far better than Northern Ireland in the 70's during the Troubles. That might do well as a model for a localised dystopia, actually.

 

In terms of authoritarian control, it seems to me that your right wingers actually want less of it (small government). The established democratic checks and balances are working to prevent any one group (even the President) forming a dictatorship.

 

I'd also draw a distinction between what is normally meant by "dystopia" and simple rule of the strongest. The former strongly implies an ultra-stable political situation with rule of law imposed (typically by oppression, but consider Brave New World where it's done by bread and circuses). The Isis thugs and Taliban are pretty much the opposite right now - minority insurgents against the status quo. If they succeed and form stable states, then they may move into dystopic mode.

 

North Korea? Now THERE's your modern dystopia.

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There was an alternate history novel called Resurrection Day by Brendan Dubois.  In the book the Cuban Missile Crisis sparked a nuclear war and ten years after the U.S. Government has many restrictions due to the aftermath of the Soviet Attack. 

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In Robert Stapp's 1970 novel A More Perfect Union set in a timeline where Lincoln let the South Secede without a fight.  By 1980 there is a Cold War going on between the USA and the CSA, the latter about to get nuclear weapons.

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There was an alternate history novel called Resurrection Day by Brendan Dubois.  In the book the Cuban Missile Crisis sparked a nuclear war and ten years after the U.S. Government has many restrictions due to the aftermath of the Soviet Attack.

I actually only read this for the first time last week! It is not a fantastic novel as far as writing goes, or an imagined world but it is a good vision of a possible alternate reality and probably reasonably chilling for anyone who lived through that era of what might have been...

 

 

Doc

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