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Characters WITHOUT tragic origins...


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My curiosity escaped and is currently running rampant*... and is causing me to wonder:

 

Has anyone here ever created characters without tragic origin stories? 

 

By tragic, I mean origins that did not involve personal tragedies such as loss of loved ones, imprisonment, last survivor of home planet, loss of personal fortune, near-death experience, etc.

 

Almost every game I've ever played in, the characters seemed to have a tragic circumstance that spurred them to fight evil... 

 

*Not to worry... I've set box traps baited with signs saying "do not look inside this box." I should have it back under control momentarily...

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The concept for the character I've been making is an alien visitor with the equivalent of a galactic flat tire who's waiting for his version of AAA to come by and bring him a spare. He's fighting crime as a way of killing time while the repair tech clears out their schedule... the only tragedy is subscribing to a starship assistance program with a limited service range and only a couple of techs.

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The Flame my first character was a salesman working late and VIPER and COBRA broke into the offices. A firefight ensued and he who was to become The Flame was hit by blaster fire and chemicals and caused the powers to manifest.

 

The British Bulldog was an ordinary bricklayer turned into a part man, part bulldog. He retained his wife and child.

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First, I agree with Greywind and QM who posted while I was still writing.

 

You seem to be combining two things. "Tragedy" in the origin does not necessitate that the hero fights evil because of that. Given that, a quick look at the last 4 PCs I created (boiled down to the basic tropes):

1) A time traveler who has to save the future -- born of a tragedy and driven by tragedy.

2) A hero continuing the family tradition -- no tragedy either in the actual origin or his motivation.

3) A mutant who, as QM noted, first exhibited powers in a time of stress, but doesn't remember that and is not driven to do good because of it.

4) A scientist working for an organization that is fighting evil. He gains his powers through a radiation accident. So, tragedy in the origin(???), but he's not motivated to fight evil because of it; he already was.

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What if your character thinks he has a tragic backstory?

 

I have a Superman clone, Valiant, who comes from a war-torn world.  His refugee ship was fleeing the Kodan armada when it was shot down.  He survived in an escape pod that crashed to Earth.  He has taken on a human identity, and because there are superheroes around, and he has powers on this world, he decided to don a costume.

 

At least, that's what he thinks happened.  In truth, he was a vat-grown supersoldier, designed by an evil group of scientists to help them dominate the world.  His memories were installed as sort of a test-run, to make sure they could do it.  He wasn't supposed to wake up yet.  In the first test, they used a bunch of stock sci-fi movie footage to be his memories.  They were going to come up with the "real" background later once they had all the bugs worked out.  But something went wrong, his powers manifested early, and the vat exploded.  The scientists were killed, and Valiant woke up in a smoldering crater, which he very confusedly decided must have been his escape pod.  Sometimes he gets confused when he sees stuff on TV, because it eerily matches his memories, but he hasn't figured out why yet.

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What if your character thinks he has a tragic backstory?

 

I have a Superman clone, Valiant, who comes from a war-torn world.  His refugee ship was fleeing the Kodan armada when it was shot down.  He survived in an escape pod that crashed to Earth.  He has taken on a human identity, and because there are superheroes around, and he has powers on this world, he decided to don a costume.

 

At least, that's what he thinks happened.  In truth, he was a vat-grown supersoldier, designed by an evil group of scientists to help them dominate the world.  His memories were installed as sort of a test-run, to make sure they could do it.  He wasn't supposed to wake up yet.  In the first test, they used a bunch of stock sci-fi movie footage to be his memories.  They were going to come up with the "real" background later once they had all the bugs worked out.  But something went wrong, his powers manifested early, and the vat exploded.  The scientists were killed, and Valiant woke up in a smoldering crater, which he very confusedly decided must have been his escape pod.  Sometimes he gets confused when he sees stuff on TV, because it eerily matches his memories, but he hasn't figured out why yet.

very good

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IRON MAIDEN, who is (unbeknownst to her) the daughter of a famous flying brick who had a fling with her mother. Her powers just developed one day.

BLACK KNIGHT, who grew up, fought in WWII, came home, married, raised a family, grew old and died--and then was reborn as the indestructible Black Knight.

DOCTOR SCIENCE, child prodigy of filthy rich elite couple. Super genius. No tragedy.

 

And others. Most of the characters I create don't have tragic backgrounds. I just don't find that inherently interesting, though there are a few. But mostly not.

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Might depend on how you define "tragedy."

 

But one that clearly isn't is Captain Boing. He's an alien anthropologist studying the costumed adventurer subculture of Earth as a participant observer.

 

Lucius Alexander

 

The palindromedary does not fight crime because of a tragic past.

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Examples:

Rush, a speedster with a serious speed addiction, fights crime to supply his drug habit.

Swashbuckler, a independently wealthy martial artist who is "dying of boredom" and fights crime for the adrenaline rush.

Captain American became a superhero out of patriotism and fights crime as something to do between wars.

Crimson Nape, an absorbing brick who literally has to beat out the ever increasing energy lest he explode.

N.O.C., aka No One of Consequence, just has a strong moral compass and being invisible most of the time not a lot of other options.

Bedrock.  Metamorph Brick.  Fights crime because he's just a kid and still at the age where he does as he's told.

Tinker.  Fights crime so he can field test all of the "interesting toys" he makes.

 

A lot of the Pulp Heroes were just "good guys" as I recall, Doc Savage, Phantom, etc.  

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As a GM, most of the characters I create are villains.  So there's a disproportionate number with fairly negative origin stories.

 

My few PCs... Bolo was a electrical company worker who got his powers when he was struck by lightning while working on a power line.  No real tragedy involved.

 

Bolt was just some random guy given a powerful suit by aliens.  (Speedster with mini-crossbows on his wrists -- could you guess that character was created shortly after Road Warrior came out?)  Again, no tragedy in his origin.

 

Plastique was a chemist who invented a sprayable, quick-hardening plastic, and decided to use it to fight crime.  Why?  Because... crime.

 

To be completely honest, though, all three were created in the 1980s and were pretty light on background story and motivation.  I've matured a lot since then as both a player and GM.

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A lot of my characters have just had great backstories, but not tragic ones. 

 

 

Spark developed his skill from a attempting to burn a broken sword that ended up fixing itself in the fire. This sword then developed magical properties. Not a tragic event, more good than bad.

 

Hostile developed his super-sniper intuition from a secret government mental training program. He already had the skill with guns.

 

Mosaic developed his "drawing-to-life" ability from a magic paintbrush given to him by Leonardo Da Vinci with the promise to do great things. His idea was to bring the world peace. 

 

John Psy the Social Guy (Obvious where the inspiration came from) developed his "powers" the more and more he learned about people, and he then developed the ability to essentially read minds from his insane speaking ability. 

 

Convin developed his persuasion skills from his time as a political advocate. He would have been the Prime Minister if he didn't go and persuade an invading alien force to stop. This put him in the alien defense program. Not tragic per se, but certainly not good either. 

 

 

This is not to say that I have only made non-tragic characters, but it does say that I do make characters that do not have tragic backstories all the time.

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A few:

 

An archaeologist who had his latent magical potential jump started when he found an ancient tablet of a long gone mystical society.  The power manifested uncontrolled but he spent a year in seclusion at the site to get it under control before rejoining society and actively works to protect the world from magical threats.

 

An immortal vagabond who doesn't really seek out superheroics but can't stand by if he can help ... despite endlessly telling himself that this time he won't get involved.

 

A brick that is similar in so much that she doesn't really fight crime - she's happy to just use her super strength as a dockyard worker - crime fights her (because crime just doesn't learn to leave well enough alone).

 

A mutant psychic who joined the police force specifically to use his powers to help solve crimes.

 

But overall most of my characters do have an element of stress or tragedy about them.  It provides motivation in the fastest way possible (which is why it's such a heavily used superhero origin trope).

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Does being thrown out of Mount Olympus count as a tragedy?

 

My version of Hera was exiled after suggesting the Olympians take the Allies side during the Great War.  She was given the water of the river Lethe, which removed her memories and given the identity of American schoolteacher Jennifer O'Hare.  As Jennifer she met and fell in love with Millionaire Marshall Taylor, who married her and they had three children who grew up just in time to fight for the Allies during the Second World War.  An encounter with Metis returns Hera's memories to her and with the Titaness at her side they return to Mount Olympus only to find it having been destroyed by the Germans, and the Olympians either dead, scattered, or imprisoned.

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I've created and played PCs who had turmoil and tragedy in their backgrounds, and PCs who didn't. So no, I don't see any special predilection to this in superhero games.

 

Like, Repairman (for Dark Champions) went to jail for being a gunsmith for the Mob and lost his wife and daughter to boot. Very much a Fallen & Seeking Redemtion origin story.

 

Morningstar was perturbed to learn he was actually the sun of the archdevil Belial instead of a socially conscious high school English teacher, but decided to use his hellspawned powers to fight evil because he was raised right, not because anything personally horrible happened to him. (That came later.)

 

Steel Phoenix's grandfather took him to America to take him away from his villainous father, Crashing Wave, but that happened when Steel Phoenix was very young. He hardly remembers his father. He fights crime because he was raised as a wuxia.

 

Solar Max comes from the utopian Solarian culture. The Majestrons sent him to Earth to take human form and pursue a rogue Solarian, the supervillain Corona. He fights other crime because as a Solarian, he comes from a culture of almost perfect harmony and altruism.

 

Chrysaor, the son of Aphrodite and a warrior angel she seduced, also left his home to pursue a criminal. He fights other evildoiers because he's just that good and noble, and to express the virtue of arête -- excellence in all things.

 

And so on.

 

Dean Shomshak

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Like Bolo, as a GM I end up writing far more antagonists than protagonists... but actually very few of them have had tragic backstories:

 

The Trojan Mastermind:  A supergenius turned organized criminal leader... There was no tragedy in his life, he was simply arrogant and greedy, thought of himself as the next Doctor Destroyer or some such.

He invented an "infinite" energy source by tapping extra-dimensional energies, but the device only worked within close proximity to whomever it was attuned to... and as far as he knew it could only be attuned for men. So he started a "Fight-Club" like criminal organization called the Trojanmen... Gave all his minions red jumpsuits, golden Trojan helms, big golden jet boots, and a giant gaudy golden blaster which discharged the highly caustic, white, plasma-like energy his power-source produced as a byproduct... He built himself a suit of powered armor, but otherwise carried the same kind of gear as his goons. They were a goofy, campy villainous organization to throw at my wacky new players to give them and me practice with Champions Complete.

 

The "Paladin of Slaughter":  A flat figuratively two-dimensional villain who was literally summoned from the pages of a children's storybook by a cult of cosplaying otaku mystics. In his story, he was originally an actual paladin, but turned to the "dark side" as it were, and slew most of his fellow paladins before leaving to cleanse his world of everything good and pure... After he was summoned to the real world, his summoner's immediately lost control of him, and he's been on a rampage ever since... killing churches full of women and children and anything good that got in his way. He carries a magical Axe which allows him to detect the presence of "Good" (the DnD Alignment kind of good), magical Armor which appears to perpetually bleed (and makes him as tough as a brick of his point level), and has a psychological complication compelling him to destroy anything good, and secondarily anything weaker than his 475 point self.

Note:  To be fair... he is the tragic backstory for one of the players in the campaign he was written for. That player was playing the protagonist "Hero" summoned from the pages of the same storybook, whom the cultists summoned afterwards in hopes she would clean up their mess. This hero was supposed to be the character that defeats him at the end of the story, but the cultists made the mistake of summoning her from the first act... right after the antagonist, her former mentor, betrays her and her order, kills everyone but her (whom he left for dead). Thinking it to be some trick she decked the cultists and ran off with the storybook, which to her eyes was a mystical grimoire.

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Does being thrown out of Mount Olympus count as a tragedy?

 

My version of Hera was exiled after suggesting the Olympians take the Allies side during the Great War.  She was given the water of the river Lethe, which removed her memories and given the identity of American schoolteacher Jennifer O'Hare.  As Jennifer she met and fell in love with Millionaire Marshall Taylor, who married her and they had three children who grew up just in time to fight for the Allies during the Second World War.  An encounter with Metis returns Hera's memories to her and with the Titaness at her side they return to Mount Olympus only to find it having been destroyed by the Germans, and the Olympians either dead, scattered, or imprisoned.

I think it does

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Like Bolo, as a GM I end up writing far more antagonists than protagonists... but actually very few of them have had tragic backstories:

 

To be clear, I wasn't saying "tragic" so much as a broader "negative."  Looking back at the OP's definition of a tragic origin, I don't have a majority of those, though there are a fair number with "loss of a loved one" causing them to seek or use existing powers for the dark side.  (Like Windchill, whose son was killed as a bystander when PRIMUS was taking down a supervillain; this prompted him to seek power to take down PRIMUS.)

 

The entire Corrupted supervillain group had a tragic origin.  They were a dozen missionaries kidnapped by cultists and caused the missionaries to be possessed by hideously evil demonic entities.  Also the Aquans, who were all scientists and crew of a scientific research ship that was sunk by a mega-corporation after they discovered the company's offshore toxic waste dump.

 

But really, a lot of my villains are like Airstrike, a USAF pilot testing a prototype flying battlesuit and decided to steal it after outside events tarnished his reputation and he was getting kicked out of the project.  Or Bonnie Blue, who was outed as a mutant when she had to use her TK powers to save herself from a cropdusting plane crash and decided to become a heroine for the South, but got pulled into Southpaw's Secession Squad.  Or Downsizer, who decided to use her mutant shrinking powers for personal gain and to punish corporations after her grandfather was screwed out of his pension.

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I thought I'd look at the current slate of player characters in my Champions campaign for tragedy-in-origin.

 

Circe - daughter of a mentalist with her own natural psionic powers.  Her grandmother died when she was young, so we'll call her origin semi-tragic, since she thought most of her life that it was natural causes (but has recently learned she was killed).

Honey Badger - son of one of the Norse Norns of fate, who disappeared shortly while he was still a baby.  I'd call it pseudo-tragic, as he didn't even know her, and her loss didn't directly shape his personality.

Maker - former NASA astronaut who got her powers due to an accident on the UNTIL space station.  Not really tragic so much as life-altering.

Malarkey - college student learning magic.  No real tragedy in his life.

Nexus - mystic whose brother disappeared when she was a child (though she did find him recently), mom committed suicide, dad has since disappeared.  Yeah, her origin is full of tragedy and drama.

Pops - scientist who gave himself powers.  No real tragedy in his life.

Shadowboxer - mutant who uses his darkness powers to help him as a PI as well as fighting DEMON.  No personal tragedies, though a kid he was hired to find was sacrificed by DEMON, so we'll call it semi-tragic for him.

 

So out of 7:

  • 1 with tragedy
  • 3 with semi-tragic events
  • 3 without tragedy
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