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The Golden Age of Champions


Christopher R Taylor
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I've been running a Golden Age Champions campaign for about a year and a half now, and its been a lot of fun to slip in various historical events like the wreck of the Hindenburg and the evacuation from Dunkirk.  But the source material for Golden Age stuff is usually really light hearted, even goofy and silly.  Having read a lot of Golden Age comic books, they aren't silly so much as pulp-themed.  Characters will even kill villains on occasion - not execute them, but if the bad guy happens to fall into the gears of a machine well, no more than he deserved.

 

The really colorful silly stuff was late in the golden age and early silver, mostly silver age.  That's fine but it doesn't really say GAC to me.

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I agree about the tone. Most impressions of the "golden age" are sentimental yearnings for a "simpler time", that never existed. Natzis, gangsters, even drug smuggling, are all golden age "issues".

 

I've only run golden age as time travel adventures though, so I have no idea about full time adventuring. I do remember some noticeably racy themes in reprints of golden age comics. (DR. Fate, and his "girl" having a normal, adult conversation, in her bedroom, and she is not dressed. (night gown) Tame by modern standards maybe, but pre-comics code for sure.

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Godlike - A great resource for Golden Age Champions.   

http://arcdream.com/home/2011/04/critics-rave-over-godlike/

 

GURPS WWII - Another great resource for Golden Age Champions.  

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_GURPS_books#World_War_II

 

World War II - DC Comics Database  

http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/World_War_II

 

World War II - Marvel Comics Database 

http://marvel.wikia.com/World_War_II

 

Project Superpowers - Comic Vine  

http://www.comicvine.com/project-superpowers/4050-20326/  

 

The Twelve (Marvel Earth 616) - Marvel Comics Database  

http://marvel.wikia.com/Twelve_(WWII)_(Earth-616)  

 

Planetary (Wildstorm Universe) - DC Comics Wikia  

http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Planetary_(Wildstorm_Universe)  

 

Take 10: World War II Heroes - Marvel Comics  

http://marvel.com/news/comics/2010/8/5/13540/take_10_world_war_ii_heroes

 

 

Cheers 

 

 

QM

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Former Hero Games prez Darren Watts has been researching, writing, and playtesting a new edition of Golden Age Champions for years. According to him it will be the most thoroughly-documented source book for GA superhero RPing ever published, as well as an expansion of the official Champions Universe for that era.

 

Darren has posted that it's close to being in publishable form, and that he'll probably try to fund it via Kickstarter. He promised to let us know when that's launched.

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Yeah I knew a new edition was coming out, and there's a ton of great background info available.  Mostly what these supplements need are scenario ideas, adventures, and prepared storylines for GMs.  I really liked the NPCs in the GAC book and its a terrific supplement, but the tone seemed too light hearted to me.  I don't think the game needs to be grim and gritty with wolverine clones and all that early 90s crap but the comics at the time were not silly or goofy.

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Project Superpowers - Comic Vine  

http://www.comicvine.com/project-superpowers/4050-20326/

 

Not really a resource for a Golden Age campaign Yes, it features Golden Age heroes from the public domain, but it's set in modern times.

 

I'd suggest seeking out copies of the All Star Squadron comic from DC. Really good comic, and is set in the right time period. One of my favorite comics from DC at the time. 

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To me the essence of a good Golden Age Champions game is twofold:

 

1) Make it as  historically immersive and accurate as possible, because the time is so amazingly rich with historical events and personalities.  Having your characters be congratulated by Major LaGuardia over defeating the super-powered version of Lucky Luciano is just fun.

2) Have your morality be absolutely black and white.  None of this "its all a matter of perspective" gray areas crap but good guys are good, bad guys are bad.  That doesn't mean they have to be stupid or simplistic, but everyone should have a clear idea where the lines are drawn.

 

Timelines for that time period are easy to find, and I've had a load of fun with real-world events and how the PCs interact with them.  Sometimes I've even messed with the chronology, so King Kong, the Hindenberg, and the War of the Worlds happen in 39-40 so far.  As long as you're reasonably close to the time period, players will accept it.

 

I've also found it useful to include a relative time period reminder, so players get a feel for when things took place.  Such as how very recent WWI was, or when prohibition ended, etc.  Saying it in terms such as "WWI ended 18 years ago, so for us that would be 1997" can really help bring this home.

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Former Hero Games prez Darren Watts has been researching, writing, and playtesting a new edition of Golden Age Champions for years. According to him it will be the most thoroughly-documented source book for GA superhero RPing ever published, as well as an expansion of the official Champions Universe for that era.

 

Darren has posted that it's close to being in publishable form, and that he'll probably try to fund it via Kickstarter. He promised to let us know when that's launched.

Please henceforth desist from otiose rhetorical appeals and accept my fiscal patronage!

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My disappointment in previouis Golden Age of Champions book was that the Villains and heroes were Silly and not very serious. That turned me off from playing in that time period. I hope that Darren gets his project finished soon. I would love to help fund it.

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I don't mind a few daffy villains, because that's period but they shouldn't all be goofball.  A mix, like Kingdom of Champions had would work well for me: some strange theme villains, some wartime based ones, and some just standard criminal types.  Penny Dreadful is fine, but you gotta have Eisenkreutz and The Bowery Boys in there too.

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Costumed Villains were rare in the Golden Age.  Most heroes ended up fighting gangsters and Nazi Spies.  When there was a Supervillain he was usually a mastermind who had thugs do his dirty work.

 

Republic Serials are an excellent example of the Mastermind archetype.

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This is true, although there's a distinction between early Golden Age and later. After the war, the comics shifted and had a different approach as their popularity waned.  However, it does seem that having lower powered heroes fighting against more ordinary foes most of the time is a good direction to go for a Golden Age campaign.  This particularly works well for games where the PCs are the first heroes; there aren't many super-villains around.

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To the timing, a look at the Injustice Society shows they first appeared in 1947 (All-Star #37) with a roster largely consisting of masterminds the JSA had previously faced as individuals. By #41, 1948, there were far more supervillains to choose from, and they were more colourful.

 

Solomon Grundy first shows up in late 1944, probably one of the earliest super-powered villains. Batman's rogues gallery was pretty developed, but they weren't superpowered. Superman seemed to fight a lot of evil scientists, some of whom became supervillains.

 

It was really the Silver Age that made the supervillain the main opponent of the superhero. The Golden Age characters faced a lot more foreign spies/soldiers, gangsters, etc. The typical supervillain was a behind the scenes mastermind, not a combatant, and combat was pretty uncommon, and short - often a punch on the jaw took down the villain, but the real struggle was identifying, locating and getting to the villain.

 

"Superpowers" were a lot less common and a lot less "super", too. The golden age GL was empowered by his ring, but didn't cast green constructs - he generally fought with his fists. When revived in the Silver Age, many Golden Agers got powered up to be more comparable with their silver age counterparts. The truly superpowerful (Dr. Fate; Spectre; Superman) tended to easily defeat any foe, so again, investigation was the focus of their stories (and use of their powers which pretty much took care of any obstacle, often in deus ex machina fashion). Dr. Fate got revised to a "Superman clone" halfway through his run.

 

I think we also forget just how short the Golden Age was. Dr. Fate, for example, had a four year run in More Fun comics (#55 - #98), and appeared in the JSA from All-Star #3 - #21. So that's 44 solo and 19 team outings, each probably about 8 - 10 pages. Spectre made it to All-Star #23, and ran from More Fun #52 - #101 (becoming a sidekick to Percival Popp, the Super Cop somewhere in there). There's not a lot to draw on there - most of the Golden Age characters we remember now have much more extensive publishing histories post-Golden Age.

 

In addition to "silly or serious", deciding whether to emulate the Golden Age itself or the later publishing of golden age characters (Invaders, All-Star Squadron for example), the extent of both superpowers and supervillains, the impact of WW III (Timely heroes fought in the war; DC/National/All-American were confined to the home front), etc., will all impact the feel of a Golden Age game. I look forward to GAC, and seeing how Darren addresses these issues.

 

A lot of the tropes we associate with the "True Blue Superhero" aren't evident across the Golden Age - that was the age of experimentation - but developed and permeated the Silver Age due to the prevalence of the Comics Code Authority.

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I agree about the tone. Most impressions of the "golden age" are sentimental yearnings for a "simpler time", that never existed. Natzis, gangsters, even drug smuggling, are all golden age "issues".

 

I've only run golden age as time travel adventures though, so I have no idea about full time adventuring. I do remember some noticeably racy themes in reprints of golden age comics. (DR. Fate, and his "girl" having a normal, adult conversation, in her bedroom, and she is not dressed. (night gown) Tame by modern standards maybe, but pre-comics code for sure.

 

 

it's well known that Golden Age Wonder Woman was just thinly veiled bondage porn.

 

Wonder+Woman.jpg

 

wonder-woman-2-naha-wonder-woman-bondage

 

 

spank.jpg

 

 

WonderWomanSlave.jpg

 

wonder-womans-bondage-fetish.jpg

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Heh yeah Wondy was a bit naughty under her original creator.

 

Another odd aspect to Golden Age stuff that doesn't translate over well now is the zany friend.  Newsboys, oddities, and silly guys that are always getting in trouble are a common feature in many Golden Age comics that were otherwise serious.  They were drawn cartoony even when the rest of the comic was not, like this guy:

 

10599339_733450200059496_556508451672209

 

And then there's the sidekick, the kid related to the hero to help them out and get in trouble (or bail out the hero).  This was such a standard for years that its really not possible to be fully true to the genre without one but... these days its either thought of as creepy by the dirty minded or just too silly.  Stan Lee notoriously HATED sidekicks and vowed to never allow them, which was pretty much the death of the sidekick.

Working these into a game is interesting, I've never tried it, though I've considered it as a freebie follower for characters.

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An alternative to the kid sidekick is the kid hero. The main one of these was the Star-Spangled Kid. The relationship between him and his partner Stripesy was more or less that between equals. Stripesy was physically tougher (think Wildcat or the Atom), but the Kid had skills and perks (his family was rich) to compensate for this.

 

Characters like this have the advantage that they can't enlist in the military, even if they want to - too young. Of course technically they can't drive either...

 

Actually that's a serious point: why don't the PCs enlist? Barring the Presidential request copout - which implies that their secret identities are known - the other option is to build in barriers to prevent from enlisting.

 

Being blind (Dr Mid-Nite) or dead (Robotman, the Spectre) are good examples. Of course, both Dr Mid-Nite and the Spectre actually did enlist in one issue, but in Dr Mid-Nite's case this was pretty silly.

 

Of course members of some professions weren't allowed to exist. We can safely assume most scientist characters are needed on the home front. They'll be winning the war from their laboratories.

 

Being female is an interesting one. Women were immune to the draft in most countries, but it would be normal for a female PC to want to voluntarily enlist. That's not a problem, even if they don't have reasons preventing them from doing so. Just sign them up and keep them on the home front pushing paper or whatever. It worked for Wonder Woman!

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Oops! Nearly forgot.

 

Of the core membership of the Justice Society, only the Sandman had a kid sidekick. (Batman only made a couple of appearances.) I'm not sure if Sandy was around when Sandman was in the JSA either.

 

Basically, the JSA was a kid sidekick free zone.

 

Hawkman had Hawkgirl, and various other characters had pets and other kinds of sidekicks, but no kids.

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Oops! Nearly forgot.

 

Of the core membership of the Justice Society, only the Sandman had a kid sidekick. (Batman only made a couple of appearances.) I'm not sure if Sandy was around when Sandman was in the JSA either.

 

Basically, the JSA was a kid sidekick free zone.

 

Hawkman had Hawkgirl, and various other characters had pets and other kinds of sidekicks, but no kids.

To some extent, this highlights the erroneous perception that "everyone" had a kid sidekick. Batman did, and Sandman for part of his career. Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Atom, Hawkman, Johnny Thunder, Dr. Mid Nite, Spectre, Dr. Fate, Starman, Hourman, Black Canary, Wildcat, Mr. Terrific - all JSAers with no sidekick. Many had comic relief adult sidekicks or non-comic relief confidantes.

 

Non-JSAers? Crimson Avenger had Wing, but Wing was an adult. Green Arrow had Speedy (but he was a Batman clone), Star-Spangled Kid reversed the trend - a kid hero with an adult sidekick. Vigilante had Stuff, the Chinatown Kid. Shining Knight, Alias the Spider, Uncle Sam, Phantom Lady, Ray, Human Bomb, Plastic Man, Doll Man, Firebrand, Robotman, Black Condor.

 

Timely's Big 3 had Cap (and Bucky), the Torch (and Toro), Namor, the Angel, Thin Man, Blue Diamond, plenty of others.

 

What most characters had was at least one confidante (kid sidekick, valet, driver, girlfriend/fiancé, adult sidekick) so they could reveal their thoughts without talking to themselves.

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Wonder Woman got tied up more than others, but it wasn't "just thinly veiled bondage porn."  It was thinly veiled bondage porn and more.  From her inception, the Golden Age Wonder Woman showed more love and respect to others, including foes, than other superheroes did.  Her identity was not based on someone else's - she was not primarily a girlfriend, a female version of a male hero, she did not obsess about marrying someone, etc.  

 

She had an island reformatory that really did reform villains, without the frontal lobotomies of Doc Savage's Crime College, or the revolving doors of other asylums and prisons.  

 

In her Diana Prince identity, she became a lieutenant in Army Intelligence.  In both guises, she promoted female empowerment.

Wonder+Woman+-Lynda+Carter.jpg

 

 

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