Supers: Taking Part in Published Crossovers

Having started a new Supers RPG campaign, I was reminded of my old one, which took place in DC Comics' 80s period, right after Legends. Why the 80s rather than the more contemporary shared world of DC? Playing around in the past actually opens up a lot of opportunities, in the same way that playing a military RPG in World War II does. Knowing who wins the war isn't considered an impediment to enjoyment, after all, and it would be a hoot to meet (or fight) the more notorious historical figures than marked that conflict. Imagine being at Bastogne... that resonates with players more than a completely unknown battle.

For comics, the mid-80s saw the birth and proliferation of the "crossover event". For good or ill, these were generally memorable and required characters to show up across the entire line (often with slim justification for series that didn't take place in the contemporary DC setting). Now, you're running a game in a shared comic book universe (DC or Marvel work equally well), which is the equivalent of a comic book series. Shouldn't those heroes also heed the call about once a year/dozen sessions? Our last game lasted long enough for us to take part in two crossovers - Millennium and Invasion. Here's how I did it...

In Millennium, the Manhunter robots got close to someone in every series and tried to either kill them, turn them or undermine them somehow. Some Manhunters were disguised as supporting characters, others brainwashed close confidants like Lana Lang. Since I ran one of the heroes as a base-bound NPC, I had the players interrupt his kidnapping. As a series that took place in 1987 (in this case), they just HAD to have a Manhunter in their midst. But I didn't stop there. They had to show up in the main crossover series. That's easily done: Flip through the mother-series and find all the big group shots.
"Your own heroes" should easily replace Infinity Inc. or the Outsiders or some other "generic team of the moment". Show your players this group shot and let them interact with the bigger stars there. There's always that big panel filled with inane conversation with heroes who are meeting for the first time or perhaps already have a bond. Let them bug Batman or get a good word from Superman. If the assembled heroes then take part in a mission or a battle, allow your players to join in. In our version of Millennium, the PCs stopped the big bomb at the center of the Earth from blowing up. In the real history, Booster Gold made like he was a Manhunter sympathizer as a ploy to stop their bomb. With our heroes doing this, he never got the chance to shine and subsequently remained a pariah.

Don't be afraid to let your heroes change history! That's one of the reasons using old crossovers works well. You already know the outcome and impact (or lack thereof) of any given event, so it's easier to let changes be made, or know what to keep intact. 20 years on (as it was), I knew Booster didn't need this win to keep going. When we did Invasion, I of course had the players fight Thanagarians or whatnot, but I also allowed them to succumb to the gene bomb if they wanted to change their powers dramatically. The most memorable group shot for them was the big superhero hospital.
The game ended before I got to the next one, and it would have been quite an affair: Armageddon 2001! This event was basically just Waverider flying around and seeing the potential future of every hero or team that had their own series. None of our own heroes were Monarch, obviously, but here I would have asked the players to update their characters 10 years on, and built a story around that. Would have been great fun. But imagine those Annual events - Elseworlds, Lost Earth - and the kind of off-beat session you could create using the shared world's own ideas.

Yes, you could try to do crossover events in real time. Fight zombie Black Lanterns or Norman Osborn's HAMMER. But when you can't be sure how those stories will end, or what will occur in their wake, you're rolling the dice more than usual. And if you don't wait for them to be over (and let's say they don't come out with untold chapters and aftermath mini-series ad infinitum), you might be left waiting a looooong time. They don't make them as monthly as they use to, do they?

My new game - Time Masters - is primed to take part in just about any crossover published at any time (just like the Booster Gold series), I do well to remember all this. It may not be too long before I point to the insides of a comic and ask "where do you wanna be in this crowd?".


David H. said...

hey Siskoid, sorry to post a comment that's off the topic but ~P~ from Sanctum shared a tragic story in response to your comment today about a ROM fan who was basically bullied into removing her blog from some ROM fans out there who were indeed, well ya know the "D" word. i would have just pasted it here for you to read but it has a bit of profanity in it and i get the impression you like to keep your site a bit my PG rated then i keep mine.

Anonymous said...

Heck, if you wanted to set your adventure in the mid-80s Marvel Universe, there are published modules for both Secret Wars in the original Marvel Super Heroes RPG.

They're even available for free download on a number of fan sites for the system. ( has all the published modules and rulebooks, though not all of the maps and accessories that went with them).


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