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Can superheroes be proactive?


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Reading through many adventure seeds I've noticed that almost all are not just reactive but almost identical: "The villain must be stopped!"  Besides accursed genre conventions, superheroes are essentially law enforcement relief workers, which is by its nature mostly reactive.  Still, a campaign where the heroes have goals would be very welcome.  I don't mean "defeat VIPER" so much as do something world-changing.  But how to do that?  Also, how to rework plot seeds into a proactive story?

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    Nothing against you, but I’ve heard this proactive vs. reactive argument before.  
    Let’s remember the Police and Fire Department are also “reactive” by this definition.  There are examples of Supers being more proactive about the world and its problems.  Squadron Supreme, Authority and also the Justice Lords from Justice League animated series.  If that’s the game you’re looking for than that’s great. And it could be a lot of fun.  But without very powerful characters I don’t think you can pull it off.

  This is not to say that your PLAYERS shouldn’t be more active in the game.  Encourage them to come to you with plot threads they’d like to follow up on or Searches for/Hunted by’s they want to see more of. Maybe try out some “blue booking”  (writing in story form or simple listing what their character does) for an investigation on their own. 

   This not only takes some of the creative load off you but also gets the other people in the game more involved and thinking about what their character wants out of life.  And if they still want to take over the world, then have at it.  
   They couldn’t do it any worse.

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In order for supers to be proactive they have to have the authority to affect change on a scale that impacts society. In most superhero settings they don't have that. They operate outside the law and are rarely part of any sanctioned law enforcement body, which makes it difficult for them to have large-scale plans that compete with governments and militaries and such. So, in my view, it isn't just about tweaking adventure plots but re-architecting the campaign setting so that superheroes--or at least some of them--are legally authorized to do their thing. Whether you take a cynical approach (ala The Boys) or a more idealistic one is of course up to you, but I think it is an important first step.

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Goals are the most important thing.

 

Unfortunately, in some of the source material, "proactive" means becoming fascist dictators or going on a murder spree. That's no different from being a supervillain.

 

In a more general case, proactive means seeking to make change. That can occur on different scales, and that means that power levels are less important. It doesn't inherently require becoming authorized to do things either.

 

An example: if you are living in a crapsack environment, your characters can act towards changing that. If a city (or town) is being held back by a network of corruption and organized crime, for example, the goal of breaking up that network becomes worthwhile. That requires more than just stopping individual crimes - the symptoms of the problem.

 

Once you break up that network, ordinary people can then start to fix up the rest of the problems. Of course that leads into everyday issues of power, wealth, racism and all the rest of it, which is a bit beyond the normal scope of superpowers.

 

But maybe you can break up the local Klan-equivalent, expose the environmentally destructive practices of the local Evil Corporation and it's Evil Corporate Overlord and...

 

At the very least, this is different from sitting around waiting for the Bat-phone to ring.

 

A fun option: stopping "proactive heroes" who are being murderous fascist jerks.

 

 

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Technically this is exactly what Adrian tried to do in Watchman. He quit being a superhero and used his corporation to try to make a better world.

 

Of course, his idea of a "better world" involves mass murder...so be careful how proactive your heroes get.

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8 minutes ago, Duke Bushido said:

You guys beat me to it: the danger of proactive is determining just whose version of "how the world should be" is ... Uh...  "Correct."  In much of the source material, proactive versus reactive is the I ly way to tell the heroes from the villains.  😕

 

 

Of course.  Commander Confederate decided that making everyone who is non-white a slave is best for society. Lots of people, including whites, disagree with him.

 

If Commander Confederate snatches criminals off the streets and sells them as slaves (after breaking them), is he a hero or villain? (Villain obviously.) Are the heroes that seek him out to stop him proactive or reactive? (Probably would depend if they only suspect such a thing is happening or if they just stumble across the plot.)

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I think superheroes can get involved politically.

 

To give a real-world example, Oregon in the last election decriminalized hard drugs. In theory, that'll take out a huge chunk of the profit incentive for organized crime to be part of that, decrease the property crime which occurs because people need large wads of money for drugs, and make it easier for addicts to get treatment for their addictions.

 

Oregon in fact is planning to use the funds from drug taxes to pay for addiction treatment for its citizens.

 

I could see superheroes taking both sides of that issue. And both political sides actively wanting to use their superhero supporters in attempts to sway the voters.

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In the past few games I've been in, the GMs would ask us, usually after a big fight or info dump, "Okay, what are you doing now?"  And we were expected to have something, even if that was just "I'm hanging out with <other character name here>."  Or it could be, I'm investigating (x), or I'm patrolling (route).  That was our chance to be proactive, if we wanted our characters to be.  If not, we could have a timeskip until something happened, like usually the next fight or phone call or text from another team member.

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3 hours ago, assault said:

 

 

 

A fun option: stopping "proactive heroes" who are being murderous fascist jerks.

 

 

 

Wasn't this the plot of To Serve and Protect.  

 

Heroes start becoming more and more judgmental about crime and convinced that only THEY have the solution (even if it means millions die)

 

It turns out the heroes were cursed to let their nastiest control freak impulses out.  

 

But as you say, what if an NPC team went full on Authority.  What would the Characters do?  

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4 hours ago, zslane said:

In order for supers to be proactive they have to have the authority to affect change on a scale that impacts society. In most superhero settings they don't have that. They operate outside the law and are rarely part of any sanctioned law enforcement body, which makes it difficult for them to have large-scale plans that compete with governments and militaries and such. So, in my view, it isn't just about tweaking adventure plots but re-architecting the campaign setting so that superheroes--or at least some of them--are legally authorized to do their thing. Whether you take a cynical approach (ala The Boys) or a more idealistic one is of course up to you, but I think it is an important first step.


   Actually, in the three examples I cited (Squadron Supreme, Authority and the Justice Lords) they just kind of took over and told the various world Governments to go pound sand. That’s why I said that PC’s needed to be at a pretty high level if that’s the game you want.

   Other than that I pretty much agree with you.

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If you mean pre-crime "go get the criminals before they do bad" I would call that not heroic at all.

 

If you mean "go out and attack the causes of crime, fix things, defeat problems, and lead people to be better" then I am all for it and have run scenarios like that in my campaigns.  One of the most successful role playing events I've ever had was a big tough brick type guy talking a suicide jumper down.

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One of the basic tenets of the superhero genre is that the system of government and society most of them live under, i.e. in America, is fundamentally just and benevolent. There may be injustices and abuses, but that's the fault of some people, not of the system itself. Most pro-active superheroes try with or even within the system to correct what they see as flaws. Some may function like real celebrities, using their fame to support political or economic causes. (In the history of the official Champions Universe, a number of superheroes were prominent in the civil rights movement.) They may investigate organized crime like the police, or Batman, with the intent of dismantling it altogether. Or they may use their powers directly to correct long-standing problems: clean up pollution, build affordable housing or infrastructure, combat global warming effects, and the like.

 

Problems arise when the heroes try to subvert or supplant the existing order with something "better," like the Squadron Supreme, the Justice Lords, or the Authority. Their powers and abilities become their justification for setting themselves above normal people, whereas true superheroes accept that they are fundamentally the same as everyone else. That's the path to them becoming an unaccountable, entitled ruling oligarchy.

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9 hours ago, AlgaeNymph said:

Reading through many adventure seeds I've noticed that almost all are not just reactive but almost identical: "The villain must be stopped!"  Besides accursed genre conventions, superheroes are essentially law enforcement relief workers, which is by its nature mostly reactive.  Still, a campaign where the heroes have goals would be very welcome.  I don't mean "defeat VIPER" so much as do something world-changing.  But how to do that?  Also, how to rework plot seeds into a proactive story?

I can't offer you general advice, but I can point you to how I solved that problem for my TASK FORCE stories between "Black Ops" and "Leap Day" (October 2002 - February 29, 2012 in universe).  If you don't want to slog through the story archive (which can be found via a link in my signature), the Reader's Digest Condensed Version is: the President meets secretly with 6 retired but still very capable superheroes after the "resurrection" of Doctor Destroyer to serve the United States as an off-the-books superhero team specifically tasked to take him down dead or alive.  All heroes who accepted the President's offer had pardons waiting for them in a safe at the White House which only required that whatever they had to do that was potentially illegal in order to accomplish this mission be filled in before it was signed.

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I ran a game for a short time (sadly it fell apart early on) in which the premise was this: Superheroes have taken over a post-apocalyptic earth -- the destruction caused by a huge war in which governments tried to hunt down and control supers who fought back and took over but nukes were flung about and superpowers basically destroyed everything.  Now there's miles of wasteland between garden cities in domes, but they rule like total tyrants.  The PCs were normal people who tried to fight this, got exiled out of the domes, and found an old VIPER base.  It was based on the 4th edition VIPER suggested story and players really liked it.  It would have been interesting to see where it went, with smart, driven people using VIPER tech and resources against evil, lazy supers.

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1 hour ago, Christopher R Taylor said:

I ran a game for a short time (sadly it fell apart early on) in which the premise was this: Superheroes have taken over a post-apocalyptic earth -- the destruction caused by a huge war in which governments tried to hunt down and control supers who fought back and took over but nukes were flung about and superpowers basically destroyed everything.  Now there's miles of wasteland between garden cities in domes, but they rule like total tyrants.  The PCs were normal people who tried to fight this, got exiled out of the domes, and found an old VIPER base.  It was based on the 4th edition VIPER suggested story and players really liked it.  It would have been interesting to see where it went, with smart, driven people using VIPER tech and resources against evil, lazy supers.

  Huh, it’s kind of a cross between Mad Max and The Boys.   Neat.

 

10 hours ago, steriaca said:

Of course.  Commander Confederate decided that making everyone who is non-white a slave is best for society. Lots of people, including whites, disagree with him.

 

If Commander Confederate snatches criminals off the streets and sells them as slaves (after breaking them), is he a hero or villain? (Villain obviously.) Are the heroes that seek him out to stop him proactive or reactive? (Probably would depend if they only suspect such a thing is happening or if they just stumble across the plot.)


     Doc Savage, one of my favorite pulp characters used to capture criminals and give them brain surgery at his Crime College to eliminate their memories and criminal tendencies and when they recovered enough they were taught a useful trade and released into society.  If there’s a difference between this and a lobotomy, I can’t see it.  
     The writer, Lester Dent was working from the best of intentions of his era, but to a modern audience it can be a little chilling.  Is Doc still a hero or is he somebody who needs to be stopped? 
 

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16 hours ago, AlgaeNymph said:

Reading through many adventure seeds I've noticed that almost all are not just reactive but almost identical: "The villain must be stopped!"  Besides accursed genre conventions, superheroes are essentially law enforcement relief workers, which is by its nature mostly reactive.  Still, a campaign where the heroes have goals would be very welcome.  I don't mean "defeat VIPER" so much as do something world-changing.  But how to do that?  Also, how to rework plot seeds into a proactive story?

As someone who's written adventure seeds for publication, I can tell you there's a very simple reason why they are written this way: As writers, we only know what the villains and other NPCs want. We know nothing about the PCs or what they want, so we can only offer situations to which they may react.

 

If the PCs decide to go further in their response -- like, "Screw waiting for the next evil scheme, let's find [insert villain name] and capture him, God knows he's wanted for enough crimes already" -- good for them. Writers of an extended scenario might even offer suggestions how to go about this. But we can't force it, and there just isn't room in the sort of little story seeds that accompanied characters in the 5e Champions books.

 

Dean Shomshak

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To some extent, heroes can be "proactive".  Recently, our hero group ended up going into an abandoned subway station looking for clues to find a supervillain. There, they found a homeless girl and her friends who gave some clues to help us realize we were on a rabbit-trail. However, the heroes didn't stop there. They took the girl and her friends to their public base and given a place to stay, get food, clothes, etc., while they finished their primary mission. When they finished, then they helped the homeless children find a place where they could stay. That's proactive in my book.

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9 hours ago, DShomshak said:

As someone who's written adventure seeds for publication, I can tell you there's a very simple reason why they are written this way: As writers, we only know what the villains and other NPCs want. We know nothing about the PCs or what they want, so we can only offer situations to which they may react.

I know, I know...

 

Though you could've at least had one involving Morph becoming her old, non-evil self.  And I know you wrote her up because "décolletage" is not a common word.  😜

 

17 hours ago, Lord Liaden said:

Problems arise when the heroes try to subvert or supplant the existing order with something "better," like the Squadron Supreme, the Justice Lords, or the Authority. Their powers and abilities become their justification for setting themselves above normal people, whereas true superheroes accept that they are fundamentally the same as everyone else. That's the path to them becoming an unaccountable, entitled ruling oligarchy.

That's...not what I'm going for.  Institutional change needs popular support, or at least a counter-institution making said change.  The reason Punisher's fighting a losing war is because he's not dealing with demand.  Remember, evil is more often than not elected.

 

18 hours ago, Christopher R Taylor said:

If you mean "go out and attack the causes of crime, fix things, defeat problems, and lead people to be better" then I am all for it

That's what I'm going for, and am honestly shocked at people thinking otherwise.  (I have a hypothesis, but that's for another thread.)

 

17 hours ago, Lord Liaden said:

One of the basic tenets of the superhero genre is that the system of government and society most of them live under, i.e. in America, is fundamentally just and benevolent. There may be injustices and abuses, but that's the fault of some people, not of the system itself. Most pro-active superheroes try with or even within the system to correct what they see as flaws.

I know the modern incarnation of the genre is pretty much based on a late 90's milieu, where people still believed in The End of History -- and consequently that further progressiveness would only make things worse.  We all stopped believing in that fantasy after the 2016 election.  Superpowers, and super-costumes, are more believable.

 

Here's my take: Superheroes are genuinely good people, with nothing more sordid about them than harmless vice (what do you think the private rooms in Club Caprice are for? 😉 ).  However, most of them don't think beyond what they're punching.  They did (in the comics) start off going after white-collar crooks before being distracted by supervillains.  How convenient for the business criminals (like the comics industry in the real world).  And "Father Government Knows Best" is pure wartime propaganda that got grandfathered in.  Sure, the liaisons and agents the heroes deal with are fundamentally just and benevolent, but what about higher up?  They no doubt benefit from supervillains always escaping prison, and I imagine they collectively laughed in relief when the only check on their abuse of power faded on 2020.  Or after every time V'han was expelled.

 

Now there's a government where reform from within could be possible.  Now if only most supers could be more thoughtful than "THIS! IS! SPARTA!"  Persia was actually the good guy in the conflict.

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3 hours ago, AlgaeNymph said:

I know, I know...

 

Though you could've at least had one involving Morph becoming her old, non-evil self.  And I know you wrote her up because "décolletage" is not a common word.  😜

 

That's...not what I'm going for.  Institutional change needs popular support, or at least a counter-institution making said change.  The reason Punisher's fighting a losing war is because he's not dealing with demand.  Remember, evil is more often than not elected.

 

That's what I'm going for, and am honestly shocked at people thinking otherwise.  (I have a hypothesis, but that's for another thread.)

 

I know the modern incarnation of the genre is pretty much based on a late 90's milieu, where people still believed in The End of History -- and consequently that further progressiveness would only make things worse.  We all stopped believing in that fantasy after the 2016 election.  Superpowers, and super-costumes, are more believable.

 

Here's my take: Superheroes are genuinely good people, with nothing more sordid about them than harmless vice (what do you think the private rooms in Club Caprice are for? 😉 ).  However, most of them don't think beyond what they're punching.  They did (in the comics) start off going after white-collar crooks before being distracted by supervillains.  How convenient for the business criminals (like the comics industry in the real world).  And "Father Government Knows Best" is pure wartime propaganda that got grandfathered in.  Sure, the liaisons and agents the heroes deal with are fundamentally just and benevolent, but what about higher up?  They no doubt benefit from supervillains always escaping prison, and I imagine they collectively laughed in relief when the only check on their abuse of power faded on 2020.  Or after every time V'han was expelled.

 

Now there's a government where reform from within could be possible.  Now if only most supers could be more thoughtful than "THIS! IS! SPARTA!"  Persia was actually the good guy in the conflict.

Did you ask your players what they want?

CES

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