I created six characters for a GenCon Champions event in 1994. The setting was present-day Earth: super-powers were for comic books. That is, until an intervention from future brought them to the present, descending from the sky like meteorites.
(A little history: I thought of the tournament and campaign setting while laying on my back, sick with the flu. I guess you can consider this a fever dream, except I wasn’t feverish. I was lucid enough to even carry out GM/player interaction, switching between imaginary viewpoints at will.)
Prologue: “Date, one week ago. Place, North pole, 25,400 miles above the Earth. A silvery globe appears in space where one was not a moment before. A hatch opens, and a series of tiny points of light trail out, descending to the Earth, as the globe completes several polar orbits. When the points of light cease trailing out, the globe begins to descend, until it burns up in the atmosphere.”
“In the American Southwest, a young man makes a wish on a falling star. As he does so, a tiny point of light, unnoticed, falls from the sky and touches him and vanishes.”
The campaign takes place in our world, with our history, until one day superpowered individuals start appearing. One of the major elements of the Champions tournament has always been its realism. This takes that idea of realism to the ultimate limit.
The points of light are in fact naked singularities powering an extremely advanced computer system that exists within the well of the singularity itself. This computer system draws upon the power of the singularity to allow people to manipulate reality in the form of manifesting superpowers.
The players will originally receive only normal character sheets, and will have to discover their powers (although with some guidance and innate intuition). They will be contacted in a dream the previous night by a woman, who will give her name as Avatar, and say that they will be needed. The next morning they will begin discovering their powers. While I was planning the scenario, I even went through the GM/player interaction (in my head) of people discovering what powers the possessed.
For example, one character, that I named Copycat, is a housewife who idolized models and wanted to look more like them. As her powers manifested, she looked into a mirror to see the face of the model she had just looked at in a magazine. She would shake her head in disbelief and her own face would return, but subtly different and more attractive in her own right. At first, looking at any picture would trigger the duplication effect, but she would soon master it. (She originally looked into the mirror because her eyesight, which had required glasses, no longer needed them, and she looked into the mirror to see if anything was wrong with her eyes.) She would eventually discover that she can access any other paranormal power and duplicate it (up to a limit.)
The characters are provisionally named Copycat, a housewife with shapeshifting and power duplication powers; Seraph, an registered nurse who becomes an angelic being with light and healing powers; Olympian, a gym/spa owner with enhanced strength, Density Increase, jumping, and running; Weaponsmaster, a part-time janitor and student of the martial arts who becomes a martial artist who can make use of ‘weapons of availability’; Mentat, a secretary who gains mental powers; Guardian, a Illinois state police officer with force field powers; Mechaknight, an electronics repairman who becomes an inventor with powered armor; and Superstar, a sports licensing executive with energy projection powers based on a sports motif. The distinguishing aspect of each character is that they all possess an active imagination and they all have repressed or unfulfilled dreams that are now being fulfilled.
After they have discovered their powers, they will be summoned by Avatar: someone else has manifested paranormal powers and has animated the statues in downtown Chicago (the Picasso is walking down Michigan Avenue, for instance). The heroes are asked to help stop their threat to innocent civilians, and ultimately the animator himself.
When the threat is handled by the players, Avatar will collect them together to explain that she is from the future, a future where everyone has super powers. It was known that these powers started showing up around this time and she is here to ensure the existence of her future. Avatar had selected them from all the people who would manifest super powers, as they would be the most fit to lead their world into her future.
She will take them to see her future world, which is largely a utopia. (In all futures the players will see, they will see some vision of Chicago as a baseline reference.) Everyone will appear in the future as invisible phantoms: they are temporally out of phase from the future and unable to affect it or communicate with it other than passively watching it. Michigan Avenue is a park; automobile travel is obsolete where everyone can fly or use a flying belt. The air is visibly free of pollution. As they ascend into space Avatar will explain that her civilization has conquered wars and disease and most crime, largely by being able to supply almost everyone with any material wants for free (via matter transmutation, free energy, etc.) At a point in synchronous orbit over Chicago Avatar will point out the various stations and L‑5 colonies visible at that point. (Heinlein Station, O’Neill Colony.) The solar system has been colonized and interstellar travel is being finalized.
When they return to the present, a beam of light will blast her from behind: she will fade out and disappear. A man in battered combat armor, with a large cannon on a swivel mount on his left shoulder, can be seen behind her. End of first round.
When the final round begins, the man will introduce himself as Warlord and state that although her future is a possibility, it is not the only possibility. His own future is much more likely, a world where normals and paranormals are locked in mortal combat. (He’s one of the normals, BTW.) And he shows them his future, by punching a couple of buttons on his arm.
It is a scene out of the future scenes of Terminator: dark, foreboding, dirty; energy blasts streaking across the night sky, a giant man striding across a battle field laughing at bolts of light firing at him from the ground as he crushes people under his gigantic foot. In the background the players can see the ruined, blasted structure of the Sears Tower, cut off a third of the way up. The giant man is walking through its wreckage, which the human resistance is using as cover.
Everyone, as before, are phantoms, out of phase with reality and cannot interact with it. Warlord will explain that this is a possible future, but that there are worse. And he will show them to the players.
- A world of nuclear devastation, where one man, out of fear of paranormals yet not knowing he was a paranormal, caused leaders across the world to push the button that started an atomic holocaust.
- A world where wars between paranormals have annihilate all other humanity, except for about forty of the most powerful paranormals, who senselessly war with each other for possession of a dying Earth.
- A dark world of animalistic human tribes scrabbling through the rubble of a destroyed civilization that could not adapt to the pressures of paranormal powers.
- A world of mis-shapen creatures that can barely be called human, scuttling through the ruins of the world amidst an ever-present fog of mutagenic and deadly chemicals.
- A world where all known physical laws are thrown into chaos by the reality-manipulating powers of an extremely powerful but mentally unbalanced paranormal.
- Then there is a world of relative peace and prosperity overlaying a sense of depression and fear. It is a world of feudal states, ruthlessly dominated by the most powerful paranormals. The players are shown one: a castle of crystal floating in the middle of Lake Michigan. Overlord, the ruling lord of this domain, surrounded by an honor guard of paranormals, is sitting in judgement on a dissident. Upon sentancing, one of his lackeys, Selene, uses her mind control powers to remove any rebellious thoughts from the prisoner. Unfortunately that means almost his entire personality; the prisoner becomes a mindless robot, obedient to any command. And Overload smiles.
Still Warlord insists this is not the worst. The next world is one of regimented uniformity; everyone dresses the same, acts very much the same, do the same things. On every wall pictures announce “The Master Sees and Hears All.” Warlord explains that one paranormal rules the world, and has linked everyone else’s mind so tightly with his own that his thoughts so subtly and overtly influence everyone on the planet that everyone thinks and acts similarly. The Master, as he calls himself, can also see and hear everything that happens on the Earth and produce clones of himself to hunt down and destroy anything that threatens his rule.
Those clones appear. Although out of phase, the Master has somehow detected the players and Warlord and is capable of attacking them. In the confusion, Warlord is struck, and the characters are returned to their home time, without Warlord.
After pausing to allow the players time to reflect on what they have seen, then will notice a large group of people mobbing the center of Grant Park. Upon closer inspection they will notice everyone listening to one man speaking; some of the characters could recognize the man as Overlord, very much younger. Everyone around him is rapt in attention; Mentat can see a definite power dominating their thoughts flowing from him. Only the characters are immune, as his powers do not affect paranormals (as of yet.) Obviously the players must defeat Overlord or else his power will increase to where he can dominate the whole area and themselves. However, he is protected by a large crowd and can draw from strength them to enhance his own powers.
When/if Overlord is defeated, Avatar and Warlord will both re-appear. They will look at each other with hatred, but appeal to the players to consider their future actions. Only by committing their entire lives to the possibility of a perfect future can it happen. The problem is that most of the characters have lives, duties, and responsibilities outside of being a superhero. Or else they could renounce their powers, never use them again and let someone else take them over.
As I worked it out in my head, the players would take a middle road: using their powers as they saw fit, under their own terms. As they did so, Warlord turned to Avatar and said “You knew this would happen.” and Avatar will reply that she picked these people specifically so that they would choose their own future, one that did not include any of the ones they saw. It would entirely their own future, of their own making. And then they would disappear.
I scheduled this to happen at dawn, and was even running through the GM/player interaction; I would allow the players one final statement or action. I found the martial artist making a piece of origani and creating a haiku at the same time, and even thought up the haiku:
As the stars die,
But the future is born on the dawn.
Almost all of this went through my mind in about a half hour, and the rest slowly built up ever since.
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