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The unified origin conundrum...


UrielFallen

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Recently, after reading some of the wonderful series Rising Stars I've been growing more and more attached to the idea of having a campaign where all the paranormals have a unified origin that has recently occured, making the whole concept of actual superhumans pretty new to the world. It's really neat to roleplay how the world reacts to it as a whole and how the characters can help shape the destiny of their kind. Much like the Wildcard series as well.

 

However, one thing that always bothered me about unified origins is that everything is so black and white. It's either part of the human condition, or part of the paranormal's. It also eliminates much of the fun to be had with giant monsters, magical beings, mythology, aliens and so forth. But I can't picture my campaign having any of those things prior to the 'event' that creates the super powered beings. I want my world to have a sense of wide eyed wonder, awe and fear when these beings appear. Plus, if things like Werewolves, Magicians and Vampires exist, then sooner or later, they'll meet up with the more prominent superbeings and be exposed to the world at large. The backlash against them would be huge and would in all likelyhood be deadly.

 

Also, the lack of other sources of weirdness kind of slims down the area of conflict. Most of the challenges in this world would be of metahuman quality. No demon minions, no robots going on a rampage, no nefairous sorcerors conjuring up beasts of fire and ice to conquer the world.

 

Any opinions on the whole idea?

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I prefer that sort of gaming. It lets you build the game world from the ground up. You can start with the real world, then add the minimum amount of unreality to allow supers (metahumans, paranormals, aces).

 

Yes, that vastly limits the amount of conflict from other supers (assuming that supers are not too common, which they shouldn't be in this genre). Most of the conflict, especially at first, will be with normals (gangs, prejudice, the authorities). That's fine, and will work well if you follow the primary rule to make such campaigns work: LOW POINT TOTALS.

 

If the PCs are a bunch of 350-point monsters turned loose on an unsuspecting world, then sure you're going to have problems challenging them. Build them on 200 points (I personally allow 75+75, but I run it as a Heroic game with Powers).

 

This is also in genre, usually. Early superheroes tended to be lower-points, but most of their opposition were normals. The power escalation of later eras was a natural reaction to a world loaded with superhuman foes.

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The PC game "Freedom Force" does a good job of finding the middle ground between the unified source of super powers and the existence of other super-powered beings. Almost all of the heroes get their power from exposure to "Energy X," so there is a unified origin. At first all of the villains are also the result of energy x too.

 

Later, you learn that energy x was introduced to earth by an alien species, so they get thrown into the mix. The super heroes existence begins to draw out other heroes and villains from non-related sources: the future (Time Master), the past (the deity Pan), and present/near-future technology (Mr. Mechanical). Basically, all these energy x empowered beings make their world more interesting to other forces. So the unified origin is the source of power for the characters and the catalyst for the appearance of other supers (so it's sort of a source by proxy), but not the only source of power for supers.

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I did both at once. It's actually not that hard, you just have to figure it right.

 

By way of example (and of course a chance to babble on about my last campaign).

Unified Origin: (borrowed somewhat from wildcards). The ship that crashed in Roswell was opened and released a plauge. It swept over the world. Many died, many others got low lever superpowers, a few got major superpowers.

Nice tight unified origin, and ran it that way for a few years, but I am devious and things started happening. Everyone on the planet was still infected, and after that fact you sometimes had people spontaneously gain powers from intense situations. So you started having some classic non-unified origins (lightning hits chemicals, fall into vat of stuff, caught in a nuclear explosion).

Then.. What was the plauge. It was actually an ancient bioengeenered virus that was used by an ancient "slaver" race that would effectively turn off the will of the people infected.

Why didn't that affect humans that way? Those few that knew what the virus was, saw that it was mutated, and the slaver virus never mutated, it stayed the same for eons. Even trying to change it didn't work (comic book chemistry I know).

The answer was that back in the dawn of humanity, eveyone had massive cosmic pools. Then one of these people found a way to turn off everyone elses, and did. Some survived, most were totally unpowered and the guy who did it was killed. Enter early archelogical man. Those that retained thier power were the classic pantheonal gods, most of whom had to flee to other dimensions at some point.

Current day- When the virus hit, it altered the gene structure to make humans have no will, but in actuallity reawakened this suppressed human power (which I called K'shira).

So now you have a justifications for magic and pretty much all other classic comic book bits.

 

My campaign ran 11 years. At the start it felt very Rising Stars / Wildcards. At the end it felt DC/Marvel - which was my intent.

 

With this kind of structure you can run the tight unified origin as long as you like, and when you (and / or your players) start to get tired of that direction, you can start to introduce the level behind, and the one behind that ect. Which can then allow you to bring in other types of stories, and change the feel of the campaign.

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We used a uniform origin in our low power campaign (by player choice, actually).

 

Without going into details it was "stuff x" that forms a union with an individual and grants them abilities (there is a strong focus on reality warping, even if no one really knows that...).

 

The stuff x isn't limited to people, it can hit animals or plants or rocks or whatever. The power, itself, manifests in many ways. One guy could become super strong, the next guy could teleport, the next guy shot fire or grew wings... one guy could be a mage (it's really just reality warping like any other power). One guy could be able to create impossible technology that is exceptionally difficult to duplicate.

 

Look at it like Marvel's "cosmic rays." They generated all manner of mutations. Reed's science also took and amazing turn towards the incredible afterwards (prior to that, remember, he built a rocket that wasn't even porperly shielded... think about it ;))

 

Yes, it does create some limits... but you can make those limits are broad or as narrow as you'd like if you put a little effort into it.

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Well, my original idea for the game was for 175 + 100 point characters, with the 'baseline' (i.e pre-powers) character being written up as 50 + 50 or so. There were some limitations involved and the players gave a character file which detailed their achievements, failures, dreams, fears and hopes prior to them getting their powers. Then I and the player would work out what powers the character develops.

 

However, this was going to be the first campaign I'd run for HERO with my group and they didn't really like the rules, so as soon as they found another system that I was familiar with, they suggested (i.e threatened me) that I change my plans and use that system. Since I couldn't really run a game without players, I agreed. Since I could convert easily over to the other system (Aberrant, btw, for those interested) I went along with it.

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Crisis on Infinite Earths anyone?

 

The multiverse begins collapsing upon itself due to something happening in our or another universe. Some universes are magic intensive, some tech intensive. Meanwhile 'our' starting universe is humdrum normal, when weirdness begins happening.

 

Heroes get wrapped up in or come out of these other places, during this flux time weird origins occur or visitors from the other universes pass on their powers to normals here. Some fall into universes with different time flow rates or time eddies perhaps while only minutes, days or hours pass here. The crisis ends, these people are stuck with the powers and remnants of that time.

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Originally posted by Mayday

Crisis on Infinite Earths anyone?

 

The multiverse begins collapsing upon itself due to something happening in our or another universe. Some universes are magic intensive, some tech intensive. Meanwhile 'our' starting universe is humdrum normal, when weirdness begins happening.

 

Heroes get wrapped up in or come out of these other places, during this flux time weird origins occur or visitors from the other universes pass on their powers to normals here. Some fall into universes with different time flow rates or time eddies perhaps while only minutes, days or hours pass here. The crisis ends, these people are stuck with the powers and remnants of that time.

 

This is actually similar to my own world, which until 2004 had no super powers, but in the world of 2014, after a comet passed through the solar system, the Earth passing through its tail, the energies of the comet, began changing people... and thus the elites were born...

 

I call that earth: Legacy, because of the legacy of the comet... but that is only one Earth in a multitude of Earth's in the multiverse, such as Earth: Prime, our own normal world, or Earth: Majestic a purely 4-color world where all manners of things have come to pass, mimicing the comics of our modern world, while Earth: legacy is heavily Aberrant and Kingdom Come inspired... two very ways of looking at Superheroes :)

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The origin of the Strangers in the comic of the same name is that they were all on the same San Francisco cable car that was hit by a lightning bolt. They were later joined by a witch character that was from the people responsible.

Someone else who was injured by the cable car following the strike became a hero as well.

 

One of the only people unaffected was thrown off the car for getting too heavy with his girlfriend. But this guy was an industrialist and his girlfriend was a robot. Well more like an android. The android acquired sentience as a result of the strike since referred to as the jump start.

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My current campaign used the common origin thing as well, although there are also "Atlanteans" groups who have amazing mental and/or magical powers but have been operating secretly for centuries. Our common origin involves a small crystalline gland somehow imbedded in the brain of recipients. This gland somehow orchestrates changes to the body down to the DNA level, slowly granting the person super powers. No real pattern to the acquisition of these glands has been discerned, although everyone who has recieved one was already extraordinary in some way before they got their powers. (No "Joe Sixpack" characters.) The majority (80%) of non-player characters with powers are in the 150-250 point range, and PCs are 350 points. There are a few ultra-high level types as well (Perhaps a half dozen). I have only about 500 superhumans on Earth, so our 7-member hero team MidGuard constitutes a significant percentage of the superhumans on Earth, and an even larger percentage of the world's higher powered beings.

 

The most amazing thing about these tiny (pea-sized) crystalliine organs in the brain is that they appear to be advanced computers, although whether they are artificial or themselves an alien life form is a subject for hot debate amongst scientists in my campaign world. In at least one documented case a person who had his crystal surgically removed retained his powers, and in another case a crystal apparently "grew wrong" and became deformed, thus causing side effects like a tumor.

 

No one but me knows the actual origin and purpose of these crystals, and I ain't talkin'. :D

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Originally posted by UrielFallen

However, this was going to be the first campaign I'd run for HERO with my group and they didn't really like the rules, so as soon as they found another system that I was familiar with, they suggested (i.e threatened me) that I change my plans and use that system. Since I couldn't really run a game without players, I agreed. Since I could convert easily over to the other system (Aberrant, btw, for those interested) I went along with it.

 

Weird. I started my current campaign in Aberrant, and came oh so close to just stopping it after a year of painfully trying to get WW's system to work. Ultimately, we ended up with more house-rules than actual WW-rules. I was ready to chuck it all...

 

But then Hero5th came out, and I was saved! I picked up the book, read through the first couple chapters, and said, "Y'know, THIS is how to make the game work." So I talked the players into switching over (which wasn't all that hard, actually), and things have been going great since!

 

Well, "great" in the sense that I still have problems coming up with sufficient antagonists to challenge them (converting over to Hero made them wicked-more-powerful!), but now everyone - including me! - is having fun.

 

-Yogzilla

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Unified origins: At first, all the metahumans get their powers from one source. But Warp Boy, Captain Tachyon, and their ilk don't take very long to start attracting attention from the Time Patrol, the Centaurian Empire, the Dungeon Dimensions... Pretty soon more diverse origins start popping up.

That way you can have a sudden emergence of supers without restricting imagination too much.

Another possibility is having the emergence tied to an extraterrestrial visitation. The aliens have explored distant galaxies and strange dimensions and have worked out the unification of general relativity with sorcery. They get weirder stuff than we can imagine free with their breakfast cereal.

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I had a thread going for a long time on the previous board (is that the "pre-Crisis" board?). It was a long, long, LONG discussion of whether it was better to have a unified explanation for super-powers or not. It all really boiled down to personal taste. The unified origins option means that the campaign can be more consistent, and that has certain advantages to it. The un-unified origins allows more freedom for character generation, and allows you to simulate classic comics better.

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Both the official Champions Universe and the world of San Angelo use "triggering events": occurrences which bring about the rise of superhumans just before WW II, or about the start of the Golden Age of comics in the real world. In the CU it's an attempt to cast a massive magic spell which goes awry and floods the world with magic energy, while in SA an early nuclear research experiment unleashes a probability-altering phenomenon called the Flux which has long-term influence on the Earth.

 

The thing is, the superhumans resulting from these events do not derive their powers solely from magic or quantum manipulation. Those events merely increase the probability of extraordinary events: accidents that imbue people with powers, humans born with radical mutations, discoveries of breakthrough technology, people with peak human-level physical or mental abilities, efficacy of magic spells, etc. All these things can happen in greater numbers and to a greater degree than they would have before the triggering event, but the SFX of their powers and abilities are as diverse as in the comics, because the event merely allows that to take place.

 

And, of course, once all this stuff starts happening on Earth, aliens and extradimensional entities are bound to take an increased interest in our little mudball. Maybe that spaceship crash at Roswell NM was someone coming to see what all the fuss was about. ;)

 

Both of these events also allow for eras in the past when these phenomena occurred as well: when mythic gods walked the Earth, lost civilizations developed incredible technology, or sorcerors cast world-shaking spells. In CU it's tied to periodic waxing and waning of the amount of ambient magic energy, while in SA the freedom of quantum phenomena to exert influence throughout time and space could allow the Flux to have manifest at a period in history before it was even generated.

 

IMO this approach really does give you the best of both worlds. :)

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Try this Unified origin on:

 

10,000 years ago there was a city named Atlantis, that was a meca for sorcerors and technology, then came the horde (a evil demonic race from another dimmension), and to protect the rest of the world they cast one huge spell that caused there city to sink to the bottom of the sea.

 

The spell also brought an end to magic as they knew it, as the spell put up barriors between the earth dimension and the source of magic, only allowing a trickle through. the gods of the ancient lands were also sealed away, only able to observe and through the use of GREAT amounts of power influence, normaly in the form of dreams and visions, but sometimes in the flesh (only the greatest of the gods could manage this feet, such as the members of the olympians)

 

2000 thousand years ago another attack by the horde starded to weaken the barriors, again the Atlanteeans fought back, but this time instead of a dam, it was a patch

 

Modern day, the barrier has collapsed do to some event (space ship crashing into one of the seals, a nuclear bomb going off at the wrong place...) and now the magic, untamed is mutating people into supers

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My current Champions campaign uses a unified origin. It's a twist on the "Earth entering a mysterious energy field" template, only the field is being generated by an alien race who created humanity with the intent of harvesting them a couple of million years down the road. Their energy field activates latent genetic codes that result in superhuman powers. The aliens knew this would happen because they made us that way. They find superhumans a particular delicacy.

 

The approach of the aliens results in a diaspora of alien races that are fleeing. Their flight just happens to take them past Earth. :) So now we have aliens.

 

There are those with vast superhuman powers. They seem to have once been human. Are they humans who are deluded and think they are gods or demons? Are they really gods or demons? I leave the question open for the moment.

 

There are those who use powers that they claim are magical. Perhaps they are "ordinary" superhuman powers. Perhaps they are something more. Again, I leave open the question.

 

The characters in the campaign are, for the most part, people whose powers were triggered by the alien energy field. At least one now claims that he is an avatar of a god. Another claims he is an elemental being. Really, it's such a shame that gaining superpowers goes hand in hand with madness. :) *tsk tsk*

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My problem with the "X-Effect that makes super-powers possible" idea is this:

 

If the x-effect is scientific in nature, then all the magical characters are not actually magical. They are people who are using ritualism to manipulate some kind of scientifically-based energy. This effectively means that they are deluded. True, for some mystics this means that they just know the energy by a different name. But the Christian mystic who believes that his powers come from God is wrong on a very fundamental level (no pun intended, I swear). It also means that you can't play a thunder-god-turned-super-hero.

 

If the x-effect is magical in nature, then all the technologically-based characters (i.e., the powered-armor types) are using wild-card-type tech. This means that their tech does not actually work, they just have a super-power which makes their pseudo-tech work. In effect, they are deluded.

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Originally posted by Supreme

My problem with the "X-Effect that makes super-powers possible" idea is this:

 

If the x-effect is scientific in nature, then all the magical characters are not actually magical. They are people who are using ritualism to manipulate some kind of scientifically-based energy. This effectively means that they are deluded. True, for some mystics this means that they just know the energy by a different name. But the Christian mystic who believes that his powers come from God is wrong on a very fundamental level (no pun intended, I swear). It also means that you can't play a thunder-god-turned-super-hero.

 

If the x-effect is magical in nature, then all the technologically-based characters (i.e., the powered-armor types) are using wild-card-type tech. This means that their tech does not actually work, they just have a super-power which makes their pseudo-tech work. In effect, they are deluded.

 

This is why I make a distinction between the "x-effect" that is the source of superpowers, and the "x-effect" that reduces the restraints on "a- through z-effects" that are the source of superpowers.

 

Look at it this way: Archimedes, Da Vinci, Newton, Hawking possessed something (call it "genius" for want of a better term) which set them apart from most men, enabling them to see farther into the nature of the universe than the vast majority of their peers. There have been such men throughout history, but they're rare. No-one can explain what leads to one person having such insight. Perhaps the x-factor is something that opens their minds to their potential, or perhaps it modifies the laws of physics enough so that "comic-book" physics is possible; in that environment, people who think via a logic or creative intuition not shared by the rest of us may suit this altered physics, and so be able to create extraordinary breakthroughs - perhaps impossible to understand for people who don't think the same way.

 

The same factor may work for people with the talent and insight to work magic: the increase in the x-factor broadens their understanding of the dynamics of magic, or gives them more magic to work with, or both. It's not magic or technology that's behind the change, it's an increase in potential.

 

This works for me, but of course may not work for everyone; we may just think differently. ;)

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Originally posted by Supreme

My problem with the "X-Effect that makes super-powers possible" idea is this:

 

If the x-effect is scientific in nature, then all the magical characters are not actually magical.

 

If the x-effect is magical in nature, then all the technologically-based characters (i.e., the

 

 

Valid points.

 

Probably the best approach to encompass as many different schticks as possible while still staying at least somewhat believeable is the one taken by Wild Cards. Every Wild Card power is psionic. Bricks are really using TK (well, some of their strength does come from body alteration); Blasters are using atomic-level TK, etc. Gadgeteers use Heironymous devices. That is, their gadgets are really just a crutch for their innate powers. Since the dependency is on a subconscious level, it is as "real" as it gets. When your powers come from your mind in the first place, a mental block against using them under certain conditions is pretty solid.

 

According to Authentic Thaumaturgy by PEI Bonewits (the self-styled "real magician"), Psionics and Magic are the exact same thing. The scientific age just needed a different name.

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