One of the recent RPG purchases I have been reading is a superhero one called Eschaton, which proposes a world quite different from your usual superhero settings. While I would not use the game system it uses instead of Hero, it is an intriguing look at a world where superhumans suddenly appear all over the world all at once. And then one year later the campaign begins...
Here is an excerpt from it:
Eschaton is a superhero game, and almost but not quite a post-ruin game, different than many superhero games in a few very important ways. First, there are no tie-ins to any established comic universe. Eschaton can of course make heroes similar to any number of popular or established heroic figures, but that is either coincidence or a conscious choice by the wielder of an Eschaton-supplied power.
Second, it imagines what the ‘real’ world would be like with superpowered beings. How do you mesh a government’s need for regulation and control into a world where people can interrupt television broadcasts with their thoughts, shoot anti-tank beams from their fingertips, or pry into the mental secrets of presidents and prime ministers? The short answer as to how they handle it? Poorly.
Third, there is no established history of superheroes, no gradual incorporation of superpowered beings into culture and politics and law and military thought. It happens overnight, the world going from mundane to super with no warning. There is no subset of the law that deals with X-ray vision, no military planning guide for countering an attack by bulletproof mole men, no Secret Service doctrine for the best way to protect the President from invisible, psychic brain bolts. And hundreds of thousands of people worldwide are going to come into a myriad of powers more or less simultaneously, ranging from the very minor power of Sports to the extraordinarily powerful Ultras. Sane people will be driven mad, the insane will be shocked back to sanity. Good people will do the wrong things for the right reasons and bad people will do the right things for the wrong reasons.
It will be utter chaos on a global scale. And that’s how and when the campaign will start. Things will stabilize, eventually. But the new equilibrium will only be superficially like the old world. A casual observer might not see a lot of difference, but government, politics, religion and the notions of ‘us’ and ‘them’ will be forever altered. And underneath it all is the Revelation.
Everyone of significant paranormal power will have their own version of the vignette. Some will dream it, others will be awake. Some will rationalize what they see as angels, others will believe they have made a deal with the Devil. Some will see a figure straight out of a comic book or movie, others will merely mumble to themselves. But everyone who gains power will have a conversation, insight or revelation that the powers they are given are part of a larger process, by beings far beyond our limited understanding. Beings of unknown but not immediately hostile intent, for they could clearly overcome any puny resistance of Earth had they an inclination to destroy us. How we use the power we are given and what we ultimately become by using these powers are what we will be judged on. But the Eschaton give no indication of what they consider worthy of a positive judgement or negative judgment. All they imply is that in the end, one ethos will prevail, and all humanity, if not all of reality, will be judged by that outcome.
Whether couched in terms of space aliens or angels or devils, everyone granted great power knows that something is happening, and that someone or something is watching to see how humanity deals with their new-found power, and the implied judgement at an indeterminate time in the future. Do we have a year? A generation? A century? No one knows. This knowledge of something is known among the powered as the Revelation.
And then things go blank, and when a person awakes, they have power. The adventurer merely wakes with the power, though in their own mind, the type of power and way in which it manifests is based on their personality. The hard work of actually designing the powers is the job of the player. The hero merely blanks out thinking something vague like “I could be the world’s coolest ninja...” and wakes up with superlative amounts of stealth, invisibility and mastery of dozens of unusual weapons.
The key and absolute feature of the Revelation is that no one with powers can talk about it. Not with friends, family, anyone. It is a mental block that the hero or villain can barely even think about, yet is always in the back of their thoughts. It can only be referred to as “the Revelation” or “a matter of Revelation”. Among the superpowered, everyone knows what is meant, but the general public is left guessing. For their part, heroes simply have to say things like “someday you’ll understand”.
The Revelation is not a matter for player rulebending. It simply cannot be revealed, written, spoken, sung, danced, mentally transferred, sculpted, painted or broken into itty-bitty pieces and later assembled into a coherent whole. Heroes and villains know it, and that’s it. More than their powers, this is what separates them from mundane humanity, the knowledge and surety that they must act to mold the world according to their beliefs, even if they can never explain why.
And that is a key feature of an Eschaton campaign. You were given powers because you are the sort of person who feels compelled to try and make a difference with them. The Eschaton does not compel you to use your powers to try and change society. You do that all on your own. You as a player have to want your hero make a difference. Whether you choose make this difference one person, one neighborhood or one city at a time is up to you.