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Can superheroes be proactive?


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Dragon Magazine #207 (July 1994) had an article entitled "Great Responsibilities", about superheroes taking an active role in their communities instead of waiting for things to happen.

Part of the article dealt with Pandora's Box, a nonprofit national hero team franchise that trains novice heroes on the condition that they volunteer in places like homeless shelters and hospitals during their training.  Pandora's Box teams are funded by businesses in the communities where the teams operate and any profits generated by the teams go into a fund to benefit the communities.  Only one large business can fund a team, but any number of smaller community businesses.

A lot of the article involves superheroes volunteering for real world groups and how it could be worked into a campaign.  Public appearances for the American Cancer Society.  Volunteering at a halfway house or teaching classes in prison.  Power-based construction and renovation with Habitat for Humanity.  Powered collection and transportation of supplies for the Red Cross or UNICEF.

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On 2/25/2021 at 7:53 AM, csyphrett said:

What do your players want? you're wasting your time if you think you can build the Authority when your players are all in on Legion of Substitute Heroes

CES  

 

3 minutes ago, csyphrett said:

Did you ask your players what they want?

Well...I don't have any players.  😅

 

Now if I had players then doing what they'd want would be the easy, common sense solution.  However, this is pretty much a thought exercise for me.  Sorry about the misunderstanding.

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Way back when, I wrote up a super-team called the Amnesty Alliance. Not officially associated with Amnesty International. They specialized in rescuing political prisoners, people kidnapped by bandits, terrorists and other assorted unpleasant people, and the like. Controversial because on the one hand, everyone knew the people they fought was genuinely bad and lawless. OTOH no governments wanted private citizens taking quite such a direct role in such delicate diplomatic issues. Especially when dictators with oil or strategic minerals got punched in the face in the course of a rescue. Not that they ever set out to overthrow governments, but... they were very careful vigilantes, but still vigilantes in that they went outside the law to get results.

 

Unfortunately, I never found the opportunity to use them in an adventure. Maybe someday.

 

Dean Shomshak

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The 4E Champions adventure, Atlas Unleashed, introduced a very proactive "super agency," Prometheus, a fully private international humanitarian aid agency described as a kind of "armed Peace Corps." Agents of Prometheus would travel anywhere in the world suffering war or natural disaster to deliver food and water, medical supplies, emergency shelters, clothing, whatever was needed, whether or not they were invited or welcome. If the local dictators, warlords, or rebels tried to stop them, they were armed with advanced non-lethal weapons and would fight their way to the people in need.

 

Although most members of Prometheus were sincere, dedicated humanitarians, the group was secretly the mask and source of funding for a utopian terrorist organization, Atlas, dedicated to establishing a new world order of peace and equality -- under their leadership, of course. The leaders of Prometheus/Atlas had discovered a method of creating superhumans to augment their ranks.

 

For my part, I found the concept of Prometheus much more interesting than Atlas, so for my own game I excised the latter to make the organization unequivocally benevolent. "Atlas" became the code name for the "superhero" component of Prometheus, as I changed the backgrounds and motivations of the Atlas villains to make them more heroic.

 

The revised Prometheus made a couple of appearances in my games, but I never got around to utilizing any of the more involved plots I had in mind for them, particularly the international community's response to them.

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On 2/26/2021 at 7:20 PM, Greywind said:

 


I’ve always thought that Captain America: Winter Soldier would have been a better movie if they’d depicted SHIELD as genuinely going authoritarian and not copped out with “Oh, this is actually all HYDRA’s fault.” 
 

I can see a superhero who is not bothered by non-violent crime, than he is by initiation of force and corruption, whoever it is doing it, and authoritarianism. 

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SHIELD  was headed that way anyway, even if its Project Insight had gone the way they expected. But many members of SHIELD, particularly Nick Fury, had been depicted as fundamentally good, but having a different viewpoint from Steve Rogers as to what the world needs. Having their organization become outright villainous under their watch would have been tougher to justify, although not impossible.

 

But I think the biggest reason why I prefer HYDRA be behind this is because it's a Captain America movie. Steve Rogers fought and apparently defeated HYDRA, but lost everything except his life doing it. To be confronted with the reality of HYDRA having not only survived, but grown stronger than ever within the very institutions Steve fought to preserve, really brings home the tragedy of Zola's dismissal of his life as a "zero sum." His fight in this movie becomes the salvaging of his own legacy.

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But many members of SHIELD, particularly Nick Fury, had been depicted as fundamentally good, but having a different viewpoint from Steve Rogers as to what the world needs. 

 

The best SHIELD stories in comics and the animated series were along those lines: both are trying to do basically the same thing, but with different tactics and approaches.  SHIELD is more authoritarian and superheroes usually more libertiarian (not the political party but rather focused on individual freedoms and rights, vs central control).

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I loved the dialogue between Steve Rogers and Nick Fury in Winter Soldier, and between Steve and Tony Stark in Civil War (movies, not comics) because you can understand why they each see things in a certain way. You may agree with one or the other, but neither viewpoint is unreasonable or unjustified. They may be antagonists, but neither one is a villain. Which is why, to bring about the kind of physical confrontation the genre is famous for, you need to introduce a villainous agency. (Although even Zemo in CW is sympathetic.)

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32 minutes ago, Christopher R Taylor said:

Stark was clearly wrong and using bad arguments, but you could understand why he felt that way, driven mostly by fear.  It wasn't terribly heroic, but the MCU movies aren't really about heroism.

 

"Isn't that the mission?  The /why/ we fight?  So we can *end* the fight?  So we get to go home?" -Tony Stark

I think it was in IM2 Stark is allowed to read the psych profile Black Widow made of him, which sums him up as displaying classic symptoms of a Narcissist.  I think that was correct and was the fundamental thing thing that drove him.  He *did* want to do the right thing, he *did* want the world to be a better place, but he eventually got sick of the kind of demands that was putting on his time and psyche.  He built the Iron Legion and eventually Ultron because he wanted someone else to be able to defend the earth so he could go home & work in his lab again.  After Thanos, he retired and lived at a lake with Pepper & their daughter & all his money.  We saw that the world was in shambles but he left & it was mostly his guilt over the death of Peter Parker that got him to come off the bench.
Stark was willing to make the sacrifice plays, and ended up making the ultimate one.  He did go out a hero, but I saw a big chunk of the plot of Civil War as being about wanting to oursource the moral decisions.  He wanted someone else to tell him where to go and who the bad guys were so he didn't have to feel bad about the choices he was making.  Once he saw who those people were and what kinds of choices they would make he ended up going off the reservation almost immediately.

Years ago some on the boards asked about what were the irreducible super hero genre bits.  One of the ones I stand by is that Supers have to make their own choices.  There may be government super-soldiers or sanctioned heroes, but the difference between a super-heroic protagonist and a guy who means well but the PCs have to go through is decision making.  The Superheroic genre doesn't treat people who trust others to make their decisions for them as heroes.  I think MCU Stark always made the right choice eventually, and *was* a hero, but it was often against his own wishes.

 

Captain America consistently argued that the choices were always going to end up being on their heads.

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2 hours ago, Jhamin said:

 

"Isn't that the mission?  The /why/ we fight?  So we can *end* the fight?  So we get to go home?" -Tony Stark

 

 

"If we can't accept limitations, we're no better than the bad guys." - Tony Stark. I honestly found that a compelling argument. As Rhodey pointed in CW, the Sokovia Accords were supported by the United Nations, representing the governments of the whole world. It was reasonable for Rhodey to call Cap arrogant for putting his judgement ahead of theirs.

 

2 hours ago, Jhamin said:

 

Captain America consistently argued that the choices were always going to end up being on their heads.

 

"We have orders. We should follow them." - Steve Rogers, Avengers.

 

Cap's focus up to and during WW II was to be of service. As a soldier he accepted that he was under a higher authority, and he didn't question that that authority was for the good.  His journey as a character in the modern world, which often caused him to question and challenge the methods and motives of present-day authority, led him to the conviction that he had to stand behind what he believed to be right, even if the whole world told him he was wrong.

 

Tony Stark's character arc over the MCU movies was essentially the opposite. His origin as Iron Man in that cave changed his motivation, but he still chose his actions based on his judgement alone. He famously bragged in Iron Man II that he had "privatized peace." Over time he came to see that he had to be part of something greater than himself, and to submit to it. His sacrifice at the end of Endgame was not only selfless, it was an act of faith that he was following the course Dr. Strange foresaw.

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Bruce Wayne tries to take a proactive stance every now and then with Gotham City, but it always seems to bite him in the butt. Nothing ever gets better. It’s like the city fights him as much as the major bad guys there do.

 

He seems to do best when he just goes out each night looking for small-time hoods to pummel.

 

Come to think of it, a vigilante like the Punisher is pretty pro-active, but he’s probably not the role model most players would want to emulate.

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At the risk of re-litigating Civil War,

 

In the real world, filled with real people, Rhodey would be absolutely right.

In the MCU, Cap became the ultimate soldier, chased down a Hydra spy, and was immediately assigned to a song & dance unit (literally) where he punched an actor that looked like Hitler twice a day.  It wasn't until he defied orders and rescued the POWs that his abilities actually were used.  When he got to the modern day, Nick Fury kept lying too him and giving people under his command secret secondary missions.  It is important to remember that even though Nick Fury wasn't Hydra, he was all for the murder Helicarriers that could preempt unrest.  As quoted above, that isn't freedom, it's fear.
Cap was repeatedly shown that authority was not looking out for everyone.
He was chosen to become what he was *because* a "weak man knows the value of strength, and knows compassion."  Steve spent his entire time as Captain America learning to trust himself first.

Tony Stark was one of the good guys, but I don't see his arc as being one of going from self-determination to understanding the need to work within a larger system.  I see it as a man of deep contradictions struggling to reconcile his own sense of morality with his inability to live with imperfect choices and the fallout of the choices he has made.  Once his sense of invincibility is destroyed (damaged by Vanko, broken by the invasion of NY, then flayed raw by the Killean) he goes from one plan to another that would allow him to do good without having to make decisions.  These sources of authority repeatedly show themselves vulnerable to corruption (Military/Hammer), infiltration (Shield/Hydra), and manipulation (The UN/Zemo).  The part where he wanted to submit the Avengers to the authority of the successor group to the group that he, personally, prevented from Nuking NYC seems very short sighted.

Until he walked away, he spent his entire career as Iron Man trying to put the whole world in a suit of armor.  He made the right call, but usually after he tried everything else.

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12 minutes ago, Steve said:

Bruce Wayne tries to take a proactive stance every now and then with Gotham City, but it always seems to bite him in the butt. Nothing ever gets better. It’s like the city fights him as much as the major bad guys there do.

 

He seems to do best when he just goes out each night looking for small-time hoods to pummel.

 

Come to think of it, a vigilante like the Punisher is pretty pro-active, but he’s probably not the role model most players would want to emulate.

 

This is basically the plot of Watchmen.

The entire story kicks off when Comedian points out that no matter how many purse snatchers or gun runners they bust, the world will likely burn in a Nuclear war anyway.  (Probably an environmental disaster today).  Ozymandias can't find a fault with this and dedicates years to a new master plan to avert this.  His actual plan pushes him way over the hero/villain line for most people.

So we once again come back to: Can a hero be proactive?
I think on the level of busting organized crime or bringing down specific corrupt businessmen etc?  Sure.  They investigate, the DM drops leads, and they bring down the bad.

On the level of ending social injustice, environmental damage, or the inequality of wealth and power..... well if you actually know how to do any of that I think there are *way* better uses to put that info to than a really good RPG plot.

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I'm probably the only person here that hasn't watched Civil War so I don't have a horse in this race.  ^_^;

 

On 2/26/2021 at 1:21 PM, csyphrett said:

Since Superman is the most proactive hero in most of the media he is in, he should probably be your role model: Disaster relief, urban renewal, humanitarian efforts, scientific accomplishments, bring corruption to light.

What an excellent idea...

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