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When building a superhero campaign setting for a roleplaying game, the most important question for the GM to answer is "Just what does 'superhuman' mean, anyhow?" The line at which "normal" ends and "superhuman" begins has significant ramifications for a Game World and the campaigns that are set within it.
The Butlerverse aims for the middle position between cinematic adventure and bald realism, but heavily leans toward the former in favor of the latter. Dynamic heroes perform fantastic feats of daring do on a daily basis. Their very presence in the world influences and changes the course of history. And yet the common, ordinary man also has the power to change events for good or ill. The vast majority of people on Earth in the Butlerverse are not superhuman, though with dedication and effort, training and technology, they can come close to being so.
The Sources of Super-PowersEdit
The Butlerverse is an Unlimited Source Champions campaign setting, which means that all the usual ways of getting Superhuman powers that are common to comic books -- being a part of an alien species whose natural abilities mimic super-powers, getting bitten by a radioactive animals, building a suit of weapon-encrusted powered armor, being a mythological god, and so on -- exist and can be used as justifications for a character's super-powers.
Players are free to choose from among the following "power origins" to determine a justification for their character's superhuman abilities.
- Alien Species: Characters of this type are from another planet (or perhaps even another dimension) where the dominant species in inherently superhuman when compared to common humanity. Several alien species have openly contacted Earth over the last century and a half, each of whom have base abilities humans don't (or else have the capacity, like humans, to acquire super-powers in other ways). Examples include the Tautiq mentalist Oracle.
- Alien Technology: In addition to formal, direct contact with various Alien Species, evidence has been discovered that points to Earth being visited by alien species who either arrived before the modern era (and thus before records of such contact were kept and correctly interpreted), or else did not make formal contact with humanity. Occasionally, such visitors have left behind structures and technology (sometimes damaged) that provide a means for a person to gain superhuman abilities. Canadian hero Rainbow Knight is one example. He gained his armor in an encounter with a crashed alien probe (the creators of which have never been identified) that had been buried for centuries in the Canadian tundra.
- Empowered Family: A character of this type belongs to a family group that has a long history of arcane or psionic power. This could be the result of some ancient pact with an ancient god, complex rituals performed by an ancestor, or perhaps even a mutation that has been handed down from parent to child for generations. Every member of the family in question will have some level of power, though generally a Player Character that is intended to be a superhero will have more of it. In the Butlerverse, the crime-fighting Neuman Family (all of whom are superhumanly strong and resistant to damage to some degree), the Scions (a villain team composed of telepathic siblings), and the Dashwoods (a large and extended family with nearly two hundred members world-wide, all of whom are skilled magicians and sorcerers) are all examples of an Empowered Family.
- Gestalt Manifestation: Gestalt manifestations are the physical embodiments of common ideals, opinions, and viewpoints such as Justice, Loyalty, or Strength (though they could also be the embodiment of "lesser" concepts such as Guns, Rock-and_Roll, or Video Games, just to name three) or are the incarnations of legendary historical, mythical, and fictional figures (or at least what the public perception of such people are like). The King, a member of the High Rollers (a hero team operating in Las Vegas) is the Gestalt Manifestation of Elvis Presley, while Uncle Sam is the Gestalt Manifestation of the Spirit of America.
- Godly Origin, Ancestry, or Bestowal: Characters of this type are either mythological gods themselves, are a descendant of a mythological god, or have somehow been gifted with power from a mythological god. In the Butlerverse, the Russia superhero Byelebog and the Indian superhero Ganesha (both members of their respective nations' government-sponsored hero teams) are actual gods from mythology. Mexican hero Macahuitl is the son of Quetzalcoatl. The evil sorcerer Dagon is the product of the fusing of a primordial deity and a human being, while the Global Guardian known as Arachne is the actual figure from Greek mythology who gained her powers from the goddess Athena.
- High Technology: Not possessing super-powers of their own, characters in this classification use gadgets and devices to compete in the superhuman world. The character himself might be a highly capable scientist and engineer who designed his own gear, or perhaps the character is using equipment designed and built by someone else (perhaps the character was hired as a "lab rat" or a "test pilot" to test the gear in the field as a superhero). The character may have one specific powerful device, or perhaps a small number of gadgets. He might be able to create new technology as needed on the fly, or might be the pilot of a suit of powered armor. The Lasher is a good example of a character who wields a single powerful weapon, while Tom Foolery uses many toy-themed weapons. The Evil Mastermind (self-proclaimed "Warlord of New York City", though no one takes his claim seriously) is a good example of a technology-oriented character who can create new gadgets on the fly. Gunmetal of the Global Guardians and Doctor Tomorrowland (leader of Disney's own hero team, Imagination) are both good examples of powered armor wearers.
- Mutation: Mutants are a staple of comic book worlds, and the Butlerverse is no different. Specifically, in the Butlerverse, all mutants are born with the metagene (which is actually a sequence of genes, rather than just one) that allows them to later generate super-powers. The anti-mutant angst present in the Marvel Comics universe is not present in the Butlerverse (though there is a bit of general anti-superhuman angst present). Such mutations tend to become inheritable traits if the mutant has children (meaning that the mutant's children will tend to inherit his powers; interestingly, the children of mutants do not "detect" as mutants and are not generally thought of as such). Bungie and Los Hermanos of the Global Guardians are both mutants, as are the criminal masterminds Lord Doom and Doctor Simian.
- Mystic Artifact: Like the wielder of High Technology, a character whose power comes from a mystic artifacts generally began as a normal human being. The character's acquisition and use of an item of magical power has put them on the same level as the children of gods and mutants, allowing them to become superheroes. While it is possible that the character created the object themselves, it is much more likely that they discovered the item somewhere. In the Butlerverse, The Magician of TAROT's Major Arcana has little actual mystic power himself, but is a skilled enough wielder of multiple mystic artifacts to have held his own within that organization for nearly twenty years. British hero Galahad gained his powers from the enchanted suit of knightly armor he wears, while famous "mystic detective" Pamela Odd gains her powers from an enchanted fedora.
- Mystic Race: Beings of this type have stepped right out of fairy tales and myths. The abilities they possess tend to be traditional for creatures of their sort. This can sometimes be a weakness if the type of creature (and thus its weaknesses) are well known. The Black Rose, a member of the lethal villain group All Hallow's Eve, is one of the Svartalfar, or Norse black elves. The child-snatching monster Black Annis is a fae hag.
- Mystic Training: Through long, hard study and meditation, these characters have learned to harnes the power of magic for their own ends. Most learn to cast arcane spells that allow them to accomplish remarkable things. Others learn to channel their mystic power into specific areas of mystic power. The Warlock, mystic defender of Earth and generally considered the most powerful wizard on the planet, is said to have studied magic for two centuries before ascending to his current position. On the other hand, the Native American hero Brightfeather (another member of the High Rollers of Las Vegas) channels his mystic energy into making him stronger and faster than a normal human being.
- Physical and Mental Training: This category includes nearly every martial arts-- and athletics-related character in the Butlerverse. Such characters have practiced their crafts and honed their bodies until they are at the peak of human capability. Usually their "powers" are such that anyone with enough drive and determination could acquire them through hard work and effort. Laughing Dragon and The Quarterback are both examples of "super" heroes who have trained their bodies to their peak of performance.
- Radiation Accidents: The radiation accident is the most common origin for super-powers in comic books. Characters who gain their powers this way have had some sort of mishap that exposed them to some form of energy (most commonly some unusual form of radiation) or a strange chemical, and rather than dying horribly (as would happen in the real world), the character gains powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Perhaps the character was bitten by a radioactive racoon, or was hit in the head by a glowing meteor fragment, or was busily experimenting with a strange isotope when something went drastically wrong. Perhaps he caught a strange and exotic disease while exploring the jungle, or accidentally drank toxic waste, or was hit by lightning. Nordkapp Man of the Global Guardians and Assault, leader of the villain group Anarchy, are both good examples of this type of character.
- Scientific Experimentation: Characters of this type gained their powers due to some scientific process. Their powers might not have been exactly what were predicted, but the fact that they gained powers in the first place was expected. In most cases, the character volunteered for the process, but it is just as likely that the character was an unwilling guinea pig captured by an evil scientist and used as a test animal in some dastardly experiment. Whatever the reason for the experiment, the results of it was a superhuman individual. Ultra-Man of the Global Guardians and Halftrack of the Fatal Four are both the results of experimentation.
In many cases, a specific character will gain their powers through a combination of sources. For example, a typical "super-archer" often combines Physical Training and High Technology. They train their bodies and their archery skills to the peak of perfection until they can pass an arrow through spaces a quarter-inch wide, and are armed with high-tech bows and trick arrows that make use of the latest in miniaturization and weapons technology.
Scholars in the Butlerverse believe the Age of the Superman (as the present period is called) began in 1929, with the first appearance of The Cobra, a "Masked Man of Mystery" who fought to bring down Al Capone alongside Elliot Ness and the Untouchables. The truth, of course, is something very different. While individuals with strange powers and abilities have seemingly always existed on Earth, prior to the late 1920s and early 1930s they were always isolated, had short-lived careers, and didn't have the influence later superhumans would have.
In 1908, something exploded in the sky above the Tunguska River in Siberia. The resultant wave of radiation (undetectable by the technology of the time) bathed the entire Earth and seeped into the very being of everything that lived on the planet. If was as if a floodgate opened up. Because of this explosion, accidents that normally would have killed or maimed people instead gave them powers. So-called "mystics" who had previously struggled to even make an accurate prediction with a Tarot deck were suddenly finding themselves capable of casting true spells, and so on.
At first, the number of super-powered individuals was low, and the powers they had were unimpressive when compared to the abilities of modern heroes. But as time passed, more and more superhumans appeared, and their abilities gained strength as well. As of 2010, there is roughly one person who can be considered truly "superhuman" per million people who aren't -- or roughly 7,000 superhumans worldwide, give or take a few hundred.
Note that this figure does not include individuals who gain their super-powers from technology or physical training. Nor does it include aliens or other inherently "super-powered" nonhumans. Current estimates number such beings as around 900, worldwide, bringing the total number of superhumans to 7,900, give or take.
Distribution of Superhumans WorldwideEdit
It should be noted that the "one in a million" ratio is not exact and should not be applied to every region of the globe country. Superhumans are not spread evenly about the globe according to the population of the area they are in. In other words, predicting how many superhumans come from a certain region or country, based simply on the applicable population figures, is impossible. For example, the Republic of Ireland, with a population of 4.2 million people, would be expected to only have "produced" four superhumans (both heroes and villains) while Khazakstan, with a population of 15.3 million people, would be expected to have produced fifteen superhumans. In reality, there are at least a dozen known Irish superhumans active in the Butlerverse, while as of 2009, Khazakstan has yet to produce any superhumans at all
The simple fact is that more superhumans have appeared in the United States, England, France, Germany, Japan, India, and China than the rest of the world combined (this is even true of mystically powered superhumans, despite the fact that mysticism is more prevalent in Third World nations than in the listed countries). No one knows why this is, though several people have tried to promote various theories. None have reached widespread acceptance, much less consensus.
Complicating the issue is the fact that in many cases, the area in which a superhuman is active is not the area in which they originated. A certain percentage of the superhumans active in the United States, England, and Germany, for example, were actually born in the Third World but used their powers to emigrate to "where the action was". Some estimates rank this percentage as high as 25%.
Superhuman Power LevelsEdit
Of the estimated 7000 truly super-powered people world-wide (not including the super-athletes and aliens), it is believed that only 40% (or 2800 individuals, give or take a few) possess the power and the drive to become a superhero or villain. The other 5250 superhumans either don't even consider themselves superhuman at all (because their "superpowers" include such mundane talents as never getting sick, or having a slightly quicker-than-normal healing ability, or having a perfect memory), consider themselves to be superhuman, but know that their abilities are woefully inadequate to act as a superhero (such as David "Mister Rainbow" Dunkirk, who was a fixture on the Johnny Carson's Tonight Show during the 1970s; he could turn his skin the seven colors of the spectrum, but that was all).
Lastly, it should be noted that just because a person has the power to become a superhero does not guarantee they will become one. Some simply lack the interest or the drive. For example, popular televangelist Sister Ruth Greene admitted in an interview with People Magazine that she has certain powers other than her healing touch that might make her an effective superhero, but feels her work saving souls is more important than fighting crime. Likewise, California vintner Charles Dubray is superhumanly strong and nearly invulnerable... two powers which are useless, for the most part in his work as a wine producer.
Heroes and VillainsEdit
Scholars who study such phenomena have determined that there is a rough 1:3 ratio between the numbers of heroes and villains in the world (where "hero" is defined as a superhuman who for the most part uses his powers and abilities for the public good, and "villain" is defined as a superhuman who for the most part uses their powers and abilities for selfish reasons).