Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Opponents Unlimted: Crossroads Series Pitch

Unlike Most Wanted, which I read so much as a pre-teen that I remember the secret IDs of most of the villains some 30 years later, I was never a fan of Opponents Unlimited. By his own account Stefan Jones was never a big fan of the super hero tropes, and did much better work when he was mashing supers with space and fantasy. That’s A-OK considering how supers as a genre took a kitchen sink approach to genre, but the Opponents Unlimited book carries a feel of “aren’t the tropes for this just a little ridiculous?” which I don’t care for.

Until Now…

I pulled it out to see if I could follow up on the Most Wanted Conspyramid, an idea for which it is spectacularly ill-suited. What it is really well suited for is a Buffy/Smallville style TV series. Much of the book carries a small town feel in the origin stories and villain bases. Many of the villains in it work best for a Monster of the Week problem, there is a good mix of dimensional/magical villains and outer space/SF villains and Jones goes into some details of the villains mundane secret IDs. Add into this that many V&V games of the 80’s involved teenage players playing themselves with powers and the idea of a contemporary game trying to marry that to the Buffy model has potential.

My design goal is a 24 session ‘series’ where we have 4 ‘seasons’ that are short story arcs. Each one covers, theoretically, a year of time so the PCs go from being Freshmen to Seniors. At the end of series 4 they graduate not just from High School but into being costume wearing, full-fledged super heroes. You can then start a more normal campaign with them, and they will have backstory with the OU villains as you bring them back into play.

The small towns of these shows are full of weird events but those events have a central reason – Buffy’s Sunnydale has a Hellmouth, Smallville is coated with lots of little mutagenic Kryptonite rocks. In our case the central reason is that 25 years ago an experimental beam weapon was fired in the weapons testing lab of a nearby army base. That generated a pinpoint dimensional rupture and inadvertently made this town functionally a dimensional crossroads. (Crossroads becomes our series name and means the series is set in Indiana, Crossroads of America.) The energy remnant is a beacon for magical forces and hyperspace drives alike; those who can sense it come here to see what’s going on, leaving wisps of chaos in their wake.

These stories focus on secret identities, and hence have secrets. The plots center around events plaguing their hometown, not the world. Their venue is often their High School, not their penthouse base or space station. Characters start much less experienced and combat worthy (V&V is great for this with the Level v. Level table) and the fight:investigation ratio runs much higher to investigation. Even if they do have costumed identities those costumes are donned for the final conflict as identity protectors, not worn through the whole investigation as iconic uniforms.

(One variation is the PCs having a public base in a bustling urban locale but they are still teenagers in their secret ID. These are the menaces they fight when they’re at home – these adventures become a tonal shift, the “back on the farm” sessions were the expectations are different. I don’t recommend it for fear of breaking the tone of this series, but it is possible.)