A friend and I experimented heavily with superhero-themed roleplay. We took slightly different approaches; he was an avid comic fan and I was a roleplay moderator of notable skill. Regardless, we came together on Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne (we did know each other IRL) and tested out method after method to make a decent superhero roleplay that didn't become cliche and/or insanely overpowered. He wanted to capture the true comic essence while getting to write a roleplay and I wanted to create something that was unique among the other great roleplayers in my circles who polluted the community with highschool roleplays and cliche adventure-parties. What we ultimately found was that there were a few basic tenants to a superhero RP that helped it along:
1 A superhero universe should be centered on its plot, not characters. 2 Plot almost always revolves around power, revenge or romance. 3 Scaling back power promotes plot growth and character development. 4 Power should be in numbers. 5 Sidekicks should be far and few between.
Now, there is some logic behind them. For those interested, I will explain in this hider:
What I and (from this moment on, I will call my friend R and if you're reading this kudos because you won't have to put two and two together) R found out was that almost every single super hero roleplay became centered around power. Want to rule the world? You need the power to enslave humanity. Want to change the world? You need the power to do that. Want to destroy it? You still need the power. We did find out that there were some plots that didn't always exactly require power and most of those revolved around revenge and/or romance. We also found out that there was a certain point of power that made the characters start defining the plot more than we could without diluting the entire roleplay or throwing in massive Dues Ex Machinas.
Overall, we decided that a superhero-based roleplay should focus on its plot, but R was very stern in his stance that the characters should sculpt the plot noticeably even if they weren't the most influential force making the sculpture. I personally believe a setting should be the most important part of a roleplay, but through experimentation I found that value failed repeatedly in a superhero roleplay. What I personally did was push character development and cultural influences to balance out my personal need for making the setting important and R toiled with making sure the plot and characters worked well together. After a lot of tweaking and literally us switching roles, we found a system that worked beautifully:
Scale back the powers to almost being nonexistent. The point of being a superhero was to do things regular humans could not, but that did not mean we had to be supermen. We do no need to become massive tanks, leap tall buildings with a single bound, move massive fortresses with our minds, etc. By scaling back power, we basically gave a huge stimulus to the importance of character depth, development and interaction. Revenge and romance took over as main plot points while things such as greed, lust, pride and other darker human emotions started arising as real influences on the plot.
So I'll show the actual, logical support for the tenants. First, if the roleplay is centered around its plot, it will be more fair to everyone involved as well as more flexible and allow for weaker individual characters. Second, time after time the power of characters became a main plot point, so scaling it back allowed for more plot points and others to take over as the main one. Third, with more flexibility, fairness to characters and more plot points, the creativity allowed in creating characters was made far more extensive. Next to last, with characters individually being only partly greater than regular humans, their numbers and alliances became more important; if a single character might not even beat a group of drunk thugs in a fight, his backup became important. Lastly, sidekicks require a hierarchy of characters, which ended up causing general class issues and power issues and isn't great for the plot right off the bat.
Those basic tenants will be the core of the rolpelay, plain and simple. However, the setting of the roleplay is also quite concrete: Chicago circa 1920's. The period between the first and second world war known for prohibition, massive crime rates, large gangs, jazz and an economic boom. That is it. I want anyone interested in making a character to do so and I won't be editing much of history until I see the characters. I won't be designing a plot until I see the characters. As a matter of fact, anyone designing characters may feel free to design bits and parts of small plots, but keep in mind I will quickly deny anything I dislike. Be original. Be fun. Maybe even be a bit cliche. Every roleplay needs a few archetypes. But, I do digress.
Thus far, I have stated the basic tenants of the roleplay and its basic setting in addition to the fact I have no plot for it as of yet (but I do assure you I have some ideas). What I am doing now is introducing a few successful ideas R and I used during our time on Warcraft III. The first is that each character be made part of a scoring system for their physical attributes and that their physical attributes be almost as important as their superpower, if they even have one. The five points on the scorecard are physical strength, endurance, agility, cognition and acuity.
Strength was simply the sheer physical strength of a hero. Endurance was how much physical exertion a hero could perform and how much their body could take before it began to quit. Agility included their reflexes and how fast they could move. Cognition was their thinking power, memory, intelligence. Acuity was a measurement of a hero's connection to their own cognitive ability. It included aim, precision, rigorous training, martial arts.
A hero was scored on a card of between 5-50. 1 in any field represented anything lower than average. 2 was average. 3 was above average, but still humanly possible. For example, an Olympic sprinter is a 3 in agility; a strongman is a 3 in strength; a triathlon runner is a 3 in endurance; various scientists or even chess masters are 3 in cognition. More notably, a 3 in acuity is far more difficult to attain; one would have to be a martial arts master or an Olympic-level gymnast on parallel bars to reach such a state. No single human on earth is a 15. Captain America is only a 14 (only 2 in cognition). Fours were anything deemed above human capability. After four is where the scoring becomes complex. Once one reaches 4, it is the discretion of the Moderator to score the hero and most-accurately define (or simply approve) a physical trait of that level. It is fair to note that anything past a rating of five will begin breaking fundamental rules of science.
The score card exists as a plot device as well as a method of roughly measuring capabilities. Think of it as a hero "level", but just as with an MMORPG a level does not always determine the victor. Another factor used in the roleplay is Notoriety. Quite literally, how (in)famous a hero is will influence what I, as the Mod, will allow them to do. This is because I am forcing all roleplayers to start at the same relative Notoriety. This is my reward system. However, it will also come with costs. This is more of an abstract measurement made by observation. It can easily be as big of a detriment as it is a reward. For instance, I may allow boosts to power or possibly even endorsements to a well-known hero that may ultimately allow them to have another hero wish to become their sidekick. The point is that Notoriety is something that will develop over time and will allow the rules - even the basic tenants - to be bent.
From this point on, I believe it is up to anyone involved to present me with characters or interest. I have given a generous background (1920's Chicago is a great setting for anyone with a little knowledge of history) and a generous amount of freedom. I have spoken very little about superpowers, like throwing fireballs or telekinesis. I did this intentionally. A character is more than their power, but at the same time their power must be an integral part of them. It is your job to figure out how. I have provided basic tenants to keep in mind and prompted you with the only two forms of measurements I will be doing. I have told you that you will help me make the plot. I have even explained why this is set up how it is.
The ball is in your court, to whom it may concern...
There is an ulterior setup to this roleplay. A reason why the characters aren't meant to be exceptionally powerful. Against my normal roleplay setup, R has requested I integrate an idea of his I never used (mostly because of its slightly fantastical nature). If this roleplay makes it long enough, past a few major plot points, I will introduce an entirely new factor that will give the characters a significant amount of more power with a hugely revamped plot while still making them responsible for their plots and still keeping them relatively weak in their respects.
Props to the effort and time both of you dedicated to this. You've really worked out a lot of details which is great because we as writers know what we're getting into. I am interested though I'm not confident in my ability to portray a convincing character in the 1920's.
That's the thing. We picked the 1920's because it's a relatively easy era to portray. It's full of crime driven by prohibition, labor laws were still loose, there was a lot of poverty and prosperity, immigration was finally becoming a problem worth legislating. It's also a cultural mark. Jazz, women finally getting a tiny bit of power, children being worked hard in some places due to a lack of child labor laws. The Ku Klux Klan was still around, so racial discrimination was still a huge factor. Plus, I set the roleplay in Chicago, which is a huge center of crime. It was literally the era of massive gambling and tommy guns. Crime was more organized than unions. Prostitution, drugs, alcohol, gambling, and gangsters making names for themselves.
The information is all around you and well documented. If you're a serious writer, you'll most likely love the prospect of getting to research real history to create a character.
Maybe I should have been a bit more specific on why I'm not overly confident. I can look up information about the 1920's that's not a problem. In fact I will be doing that for sure. It's just that I haven't lived through the twenties and the struggles people went through during that time. I want to do it justice and be convincing. I lack any personal reference or familiarities is what I'm trying to say. While I know I have no superpowers, somehow that is easier to imagine than living in a different time period.
I'm going to work on a character though because I love roleplays like this and none of them have gotten very far.
Well, unless you're nearing a century old, you won't have experience in the '20s. We can only do our best. What I believe is the hardest part will be integrating a superpower.
Well I'm definately not anywhere near that age!
That will definately be tricky and I'm going to avoid a cookie cutter power at all costs.
I will read the foreshadowing and such in a bit, any chance I could by a super intelligent monkey?
Hm... actually, if you did a superhero duo where you were a super-intelligent monkey that masqueraded as the pet of maybe some type of gangster-hero type thing, I could let that slide. If you find a partner to duo with, I'll easily let that go and even help you develop it.