Now You Face a God!!!!! Superhero Games and Superhero Worldbuilding

It’s time to face facts. Deities don’t always work in superhero games well. Everyone has preferences, and those preferences are not the same for everyone. For the most part, there are two clear models of how deities work.

Model One: This is the “Marvel Comics” model of deities. Deities are merely extremely powerful superbeings. They can be fought, challenged, defeated, or overcome, and are no different than any other threat. Thor is a playable character, which means any other deity is a playable character, too. On the surface, this is really cool, BUT…there are some problems.

1) The characters who are NOT gods have to suffer the constant preening of this oaf. Now, if they’re okay with that, that’s fine and dandy, but it leads to a second problem, which is a little more telling.

2) If the “God” has the same power level as the other player characters, he’s really not much of a god, is he? This constitutes the fundamental issue of “The God is more powerful than everyone else on the team, and we can’t fight HIS enemies, so what the heck are we doing here? And how is anything he does with us a challenge for him? This can really stink for the Dark Stalker of the Night type. While the god is hurling lightning bolts, he’s having trouble with a single deific minion.

3) The other problem with this, of course, is that NPC gods have to be scaled to the level of PC gods. So the moment one PC is allowed to be a god, it’s reasonable to assume that other gods are in the same power range. This leads to campaign inconsistencies, like Archvillain Power Armor Seemingly Invincible Owns His Own Country Man being able to walk over Zeus and rip his heart out while chewing gum and cutting out little paper men with scissors and making christmas decorations.

Now let’s look at the DC God Model

1) Leaders of Pantheons are virtually untouchable. No one messes with Zeus, Odin, Ameratsu, etc, however, everyone else is merely a very powerful superbeing who can be challenged and defeated.

See above for the rest of it.

Regrettably, these models don’t work well for most gaming worlds. There’s no real reason for the Captain America or Batman type to do as much damage as Thor does, let alone be in a game where such a character can be continously effective. The likelihood of such a result is slim to none in a group full of players, because most players won’t be willing to tolerate the deity in their midst who is more powerful than them in every single way. As much as we like to see Superman together with Batman in the Justice League, try role playing that every week and being faced by enemies you can’t hurt when you hit them. It gets old, fast.

In a tabletop roleplaying game, you generally have two choices. You can make Gods off limits as player characters (Recommended), or you can allow PC’s to play gods from alternative pantheons that you make up. Your own gods that aren’t related to mythology obey superhero rules logic. (See Jack Kirby’s New Gods for an example of this-Darkseid is no different from any other master villain that you might create.)

Characters from “normal” mythologies that aren’t gods themselves are always fair game. Valkyries, Seraphs, and all that other good stuff which people don’t pay much attention to are all great superhero characters. In some ways, this is better than playing the gods themselves, because they’re your bosses and you get some awesome meaty roleplay/story time out of it, especially when they don’t want you to do something that’s clearly good.

So what to do with all of these mythologies? Well, some of them (The ones you like and think would make cool opponents) can be supervillains. The others, the ones you don’t, ignore until you need to use them. If you think Svarog is cool, use him. But remember that once you do, the most important thing is that your campaign remains consistent. Svarog needs to be pretty much the same when he’s encountered next, and his power should be relative to other deities in his pantheon.

Of course, if you can live with gods that can be easily trashed by your players, you’re welcome to do that. Just remember that actions have consequences, and some of them may not be desirable.

  • Upcoming Appearances

    Heroicon, Decatur, Illinois, May 15-17

    Michael will be appearing at Heroicon as a Special Guest, where he will run games and appear on panels. All proceeds from this convention go to benefit troops overseas with games, both donated and purchased, sponsored by a group called Games for Troops. I know it's a trek. Come join me anyway.

    Nexus Game Fair, Milwaukee, WI, June 25-28

    Michael will be appearing at Nexus Game Fair as a Special Guest, where he will run games and appear on Panels.

    Gencon, Indianapolis, IN, July 29-August 2.

    Michael will be attending Gencon and representing Blackwyrm Games, where his latest products will be playtested and he will have at least one signing.