My years as a teenage fanboy revolved around the (fairly typical) twin loci of superhero comics and role playing games, and I spent a good deal of money, time, and effort in search of a geek grail that combined these two obsessions into one seamless package.
The key word here is “seamless.” While there were plenty of superhero-themed RPGs to choose from at the time, all of them fell well short of the mark when it came to capturing the true essence of the genre. There are some fundamental and irreconcilable differences between the two forms of media.
Comics, especially superhero stuff, tend to be elastic in terms of their narrative format, while role playing games operate in a realm of rigid codification designed to give structure to an open-ended collaborative experience. In comic books, the process of having Batman discover a clue to a murder, decipher it, and deliver a smackdown on the culprit can be handled in three (or even one, for pre-1970 stories) quick panels. In the context of a role playing game, however, that same process would involve at least a dozen dice rolls made across an hour of play time.
Emulating the superficial trappings of the superhero genre in the form of tables and saving throws is easy. Emulating the actual feel and flow of the source material is another matter entirely. Over the course of my long (and ultimately fruitless) quest, I built up a rather large collection of superhero RPG rulebooks, modules, and supplements ranging from the relatively mainstream (TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes game) to mondo obscuro (an “indie” Australian effort with amateur hour typesetting and a staggering number of light-tabled boob shots).
While I was able to repurpose some of the material for my on-and-off Champions (a game based on the concept that superheroes + algebra = FUN!) campaign, most of the supplements ended up collecting dust in my grandma’s attic for nearly two decades…
…until the launch of the Thursday’s Table feature (which has been sidetracked by other concerns the past couple of weeks) motivated me to break the seals on the Rubbermaid storage bin containing the artifacts of my role playing youth. Five minutes of crate digging turned up several items I either had no recollection of purchasing or — in the case of the 1987 Villains & Vigilantes module For the Greater Good — couldn’t believe I had forgotten about.
V&V was Fantasy Games Unlimited’s early entry into the superhero RPG subgenre. Less complicated than Champions yet more involved than Marvel Super Heroes, it managed to carve out a niche for itself among gamers looking for a middle ground between the poles of complexity and sustained itself through the better part of the Eighties — and, like the Champions RPG, was the subject of a justly forgotten Eclipse miniseries.
Though I didn’t care much for the game’s mechanics, the official scenario modules tended to be a bit closer to (not to mention cheaper than) the superhero comics source material than those of its rival systems, making them ideal sources from which to cannibalize ideas.
On the surface, For the Greater Good appeared to be an unlicensed riff on the “superheroes versus religious zealots” theme covered in the 1982 X-Men graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills (also used as the basis for the second X-Men film), right down to the gratuitously over the top crucifixion imagery.
A glimpse at the module’s introduction, however, reveals that the the author has gone beyond Chris Claremont’s half-assed social metaphors and into the awkward realm of ham-fisted editorializing…
I have nothing but contempt for the forces of the so-called “Religious Right,” but there’s something a tad pathetic about reducing the very real threat it poses into a collection of straw men designed to be whomped by some social misfits gathered around a folding card table in a basement rumpus room.
Collective mythologizing aside, fundamentalists fulfilled the same function to role playing gamers as Dr. Frederick Wertham did for comics fans — provide an easy high-profile scapegoat to blame for a wider decline in the marketplace. At worst, all they really did was loudly hammer a few coffin nails into a couple of fading fads.
For the Greater Good takes the straw man thing quite seriously, with a team of Christian fundamentalist supervillains led — with a touch of the subtlety geeks are renknowned for — by the Reverend Fairwell.
As laughable the book-burning 451 or Corporal Punishment were as two-dimensional caricatures, nothing can top the high concept hilarity of…
(I know, right? I have the book open in front of me right now and I can hardly believe it.)
Despite her matronly appearance, Auntie Porn was once “Lola Lipps,” a shining star in the skin trade’s firmament…until a sex-crazed photog kidnapped her and confined her in his secret darkroom. During her frantic efforts to escape, Lola accidentally exposed herself to a toxic cocktail of emulsifiers and fixative agents which prematurely aged her while giving her superhuman power to — no lie — siphon away her victims’ precious bodily fluids.
Taking a code name that — let’s face facts — could suggest either a pro or con stance regarding adult entertainment, Ms. Porn embarked on a violent personal crusade against smut in all forms.
So watch out, 99.9999% of the internet that isn’t funny cat pictures — you have been put on notice.
As clear proof that one needn’t actually be in a comic book to be an absurdly awful comic book character, the life-sucking, anti-fucking Auntie Porn has earned — via special dispensation — the honor of being this week’s righteously chosen Nobody’s Favorite.