There are a couple of other things about the characters that I want to touch on.
First is that each one of the characters as a metaphor – some aspect of American life that they embody. This is a narrative device more than anything else, but it takes the place of ‘alignment’ in the classic super hero universe. (Another way of replacing alignment is having each hero represent a certain part of a group psyche, but everyone being a metaphor is a bit bigger than that, and the JAA is a game of big things).
In case you’re wondering what I’m talking about here, the idea of the metaphor is “being a superhuman is like being X”, with X variable for the setting. In the X-Men books it went from being a mutant is like being a teenager’ to ‘being a mutant is like being a member of a minority’ to, the Bryan Singer movies, ‘being a mutant is like being gay’. The 1980’s Teen Titans books are an even better example, where being a super-hero was like being in a parent child relationship, and everyone had a different flavor of it: Cyborg’s scientist dad so wanted him to become an engineer that he literally turned his son into a machine; Raven is the ultimate child of an abusive father; each of the characters can be mapped on a particular parent/child dynamic.
In any event, in this game being a member of the JAA is like being an American (as it should be, otherwise they’re just the Justice Alliance). Vigilante embodies the reconstruction amendments: he has spent 150 years fighting for voting rights and equal protection under the law. It’s what he does, it’s who he is.
Firestorm is the question of integration: His fusion of an older, foreign born Asian cultural archetype with a younger, native born, barely tied to his parent’s culture epitomizes the struggle to keep the cultural identity while embracing the American experience.
The Question is the obsession with Conspiracy Theory: you can’t understand the 20th century without understanding the nature of conspiracy theory, the need to find connections and deeper truths.
Aquaman is the spirit of exploration – as with Star Trek where the aliens were really about human problems Aquaman is exploring a whole other realm but the aliens are humans.
Jason is still noodling on Superman’s metaphor right now (he’s been a Populist, an Immigrant, the Secular Humanist Savior, a Reagan Democrat and various other things depending on when it was). Secular Humanist Savior may come back, or the spirit of compromise, or Generation X.
Comic Book Titles
The other idea I’m playing with here is what comics the hero is appearing in that aren’t the Justice Alliance. These sorts of team books have heroes who have their own books and those who don’t, where those who don’t get more screen time and subplots because this is the only place they’re showing up. This is why in the Avengers we spend so much time with the Wasp and Ant Man relationship, or the Vision Scarlet Witch Quicksilver Wonder Man dynamic. It’s not as visible in Morrison’s run on JLA where six of the seven core heroes have their own book or books, but it was very evident in the Silver Age were the Hawks, Elongated Man, Zatanna and Red Tornado kept their subplots confined to JLA.
To capture that vibe in this game, as well as to bring in some more narrative mechanical ideas, is that players have scene framing chips that let them pull away from the GM’s planned plot (yes, I’m old school enough to still have one of those) for subplot scenes with another character. Given that these mechanics are designed to produce single session games most times I want to be able to limit the number of subplots kicking around to avoid subplot kudzu, so there can’t be a ton of these.
My original idea was that if the player chose to have their character appear in one or more other books they got extra character points to build them but fewer subplot chips – they have more potential spotlight for planned scenes but less spotlight time for subplots. The problem is this runs counter to the pretty smooth hero point mechanic that I already have, where the more powerful characters become more tightly constrained by negative hero points. That makes scenario plotting a ton easier and I refuse to give it up.
Since it’s a general reality that some players love emotionally powerful subplots and some see them as either awkward or a distraction from play we’re going to build on that. The player decides how many books their hero is in every month, and that does two things: First, It broadens their rogues’ gallery: More books equals more bad guys (6 per book, 3 or so callbacks and 3 new), and more things for the GM to draw on or call back to. Having your villains show up as part of the plot increases your spotlight time almost by definition. Second, tt determines their subplot tokens.
If your hero ONLY appears in JAA you start with one initiating token and one joining token. You are allowed to play your initiating token and frame a scene that includes anyone who has joining tokens left to spend. If your hero also stars in their own title you have a joining token but not an initiating one, and can be part of one other character’s subplot. If your hero stars in 2 or more books a month he doesn’t have either, and can’t/won’t be pulled into subplots – he’s the guy who is so busy he is never hanging around the base
If there aren’t any heroes with initiating tokens remaining then either you have no subplots or two or more players can initiate simultaneously with their joining tokens, sharing the scene framing and having a quick interpersonal scene.
Since this is entirely player driven I’m not stating anything about the starting heroes – if you have a group of players who all love subplots then none of them have their own books and they look like the Detroit era JLA. If everyone wants just pulse pounding action with no subplots then everyone is in their own book or books and there are no initiating tokens and few joiners, which looks like Morrison era JLA. If it’s an even mix then you’re in the Silver Age team where we watch Red Tornado muse about his humanity to the Hawks who worry about losing their culture white Zatanna starts dating the recently widowed Flash. It all depends on what your table dynamic is like.