Someone mentioned the game "City of Heroes" today. While I've never played that particular game, I do have some experience with the less familiar "Golden Heroes". The oldbies among you may recall this RPG, which was one of the earlier forays into the "superhero" genre. It was a pen-and-paper game, like D&D, with mutants and evil-scientists replacing elves and orcs. We didn't need no stinkin' computers!
Anyway, the cool thing about this game was that it "kept it reals, yo". You couldn't just make up any old superhero; you had to roll for a character type (mutant, alien, etc), then you rolled for his powers (flying, force-field etc), and then-- here's the hard part-- you had to come up with a reasonable story to make it all work. If some powers were inconsistent with your hero's background, out they went. For example, Superman would never fly (literally!) in the Golden Heroes world. And don't get me started on his other so-called "powers". "Um, yeah, his super-cold breath comes from, uh, ya know, Krypton's sun?" Try again, Clark.
But I digress, because none of this really affected me. For added "realness" we decided to create one character and one character only and use that for the duration of the session (which, as hard core nerds in the 80s, could often encapsulate an entire weekend). We would let the dice decide our fates, and not tolerate re-rolls under any circumstances. One of my buddies rolled first and created some sort of Iron-Man clone with the usual assortments of flight, super-strength, armor, and so forth. Iron-Men were easy because you could always justify their abilities with "nanotechnology!" Looking back now, it's becoming clearer why the ladies didn't frequent our sessions.
A few other guys created their heroes. One could manipulate matter to grow and shrink things. One could create fire. I don't really remember the details, but I do know that they were all "super". Then came my turn.
I rolled the dice to determine my power-source and got the most common one, "altered human". This is like Spiderman, where something happens to an ordinary person to make him extraordinary. Perhaps an unwarranted anal probing by aliens left me with the ability to expunge noxious fumes from my arse? Maybe a freak computer-programming accident (they happen, I swear!) gave me powers over all electrical appliances? I had a zillion ideas and was just salivating at the opportunity to make it all fit. What would my powers be?
I rolled the 10-sided die to see how many powers I got: 1. Dang. Well, that's ok I guess... a lot of the powers were pretty comprehensive and plus, this would make my story easier.
I rolled the 100-sided die to see which power was to be mine. It rolled around for a while and fell off the table. I tried again and it rolled off the table again. I cursed at my friend for buying a die shaped like a sphere. I rolled two 10-sided dice instead: 57. 57, 57 what is that, I said, leafing through the booklet (you know how cool a game is by how big its instruction book is).
57: Jump. Your character can jump higher than normal. Roll and compare against this table...
Uh, hmm ok. Let's see, I rolled a 1.
Your character can jump up to seven feet.
WTF! Of course, back then "WTF" didn't exist, nor did the subsequent "LOL" by my friends. Massive LOL-ing.
I argued with my friends, come on, this isn't even a superhero. This guy can fly, and this guy can teleport, and all I can do is jump a little bit?
No way, one guy retorted. We're "keepin' it reals, yo". Plus, you still need to come up with a story to explain your powers. LOL.
What a $^#! So my story is, my guy took track. He wasn't even a track star (he couldn't jump THAT high). After high school, he couldn't get a job so he decided to become a superhero.
He is, "The Frog".
Of course my friends loved the game and we ended up playing with these characters all weekend. The Frog would jump in and out of battles, occassionally getting knocked senseless. At some point I became desperate and tried to leap off a building into Frog heaven, where hopefully I could reincarnate myself as a real hero, but one of the other heroes "saved" me. Boy, those guys were the best!
I decided to use their taunts as motivation for my own life. One day I would come back as a REAL superhero and torment them as they tormented me. Mwuaahahaha!
Now all I need is that freak computer-programming accident.