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 set
The Butlerverse aims for
the middle position between cinematic adventure and bald realism.
Dynamic heroes perform fantastic feats of daring do on a daily basis,
influencing and even changing 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 Planet Earth are not
superhuman, though with dedication and effort, training and
technology, they can come close to being so.
In most of the campaigns set in the Butlerverse, the Player Characters
have been built as "Standard Superheroic Characters" for whatever
rules system was in use at the time. For the early campaigns
(such as the Sentinels Campaign, which ran from 1983 to 1985), this
meant a base of 100 Character Points and an additional 150
Disadvantage Points. When Champions Fourth Edition (the "Big
Blue Book" with a cover by comic book artist George Perez) came out,
the Team America campaign (which ran from 1988 to 1992) used the same
numbers. Later, for the Sunshine Warriors campaign (running from
1993 to 1996) this was increased to a base of 125 Character Points and
150 points of Disadvantages for the Sunshine Warriors.
The Hero System 5th
Edition (the "Green Man Book", sometimes called "FrED" after the
revised edition was released) bumped up the points totals for a
"Standard Superheroic Character" to a base of 200 Character Points and
150 Points of Disadvantages. When the Butlerverse was opened up
as a shared world campaign setting during the days of the Global
Guardians PBEM Campaigns (which ran from 1999 to 2006), most of the
various campaigns used these numbers. The team members of the
Global Guardians campaigns, however, were "High Powered Heroes" built
on a base of 350 points, with 150 points of Disadvantages.
The Hyperion Academy
campaign is the first campaign set after the release of Hero System
6th Edition, using the new guidelines for characters (325 base points
plus 75 points of Complications).
Characteristics: The Characteristic scores of a character
are a good indicator of whether or not he or she is superhuman.
Average people generally have Characteristic scores hovering around
10. Talented characters will have characteristics ranging from
11 to 15. Highly competent people will range from 15 to 20.
Only the most capable will have Characteristics between 20 and 25, and
only the true superhuman will have Characteristics that rise above 25.
It should be noted that in
the Butlerverse, a character's super-powers are generally tightly
defined, and their effects on Characteristic scores has to be
justified. What this means is the maximum primary
characteristic score for any normal human being is 25. If a character has no concept-driven reason
to exceed the normal limits of human ability, those limits should not be exceeded.
For example, if Hero Man is superhumanly strong and invulnerable, but
has no reason to be superhumanly smart, his Intelligence score should
not be higher than 25, even if his Strength score is somewhere in the
It is not required,
however, that a character possess superhuman-range Characteristics in
order to be considered a superhuman. The primary marker is the
possession of some superhuman ability. A character can still fly
and shoot lightning from his fingertips without having a single
Characteristic score above 10.
The Source of
Super-Powers: The Butlerverse is an Unlimited Source
Champions campaign setting, which means that all the usual was of
getting superhuman powers -- being a part of an alien species whose
natural abilities mimic super-powers, getting bitten by a radioactive
weasel, 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 superpowers.
Characters of this type are from another planet (or perhaps even
another dimension) where the dominant species is inherently
superhuman when compared to common humanity. Several alien
species have contacted Earth over the last century and a half, each
of whom have base abilities human beings don't (or else have the
capacity, like humanity, to acquire super-powers in other ways).
Examples from the Butlerverse include the Tautiq mentalist Oracle.
In addition to contact with alien species, evidence has been
discovered that points to Earth having been visited by aliens in the
past. These species either came and left before recorded
history, or else made no formal contact with humanity. Such
creatures have left behind structures and technology (sometimes
damaged) that provide a means for a person to gain superhuman
abilities. Canadian hero Rainbow Knight gained his "powered
armor" in an encounter with a crashed alien probe that had been
buried for centuries.
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 the gods, 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) and the Scions (a villain
team composed of telepathic siblings) are both examples of an
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 common concepts, such as Guns, Rock-and-Roll,
or Video Games), 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 hero team in Las Vegas, is the Gestalt Manifestation of
Elvis Presley, while Uncle Sam is the living embodiment of the
Spirit of America.
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 Russian hero Byelebog and the Indian hero
Ganesha (both members of their respective nations' official 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 gained her powers from the
Not possessing super-powers of their own, characters in this type
use gadgets and devices to compete in the superhuman world.
The character himself might be a highly capable scientist and
engineer who designs their own gear, or perhaps the character is
using equipment designed and built by someone else (perhaps the
character was hired as a "lab rat" to test the gear in the field as
a superhero). The character may have one specific powerful
device, or 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 villain who wields a single powerful
weapon, while the Evil Mastermind (self-proclaimed "Warlord of New
York City", though no one takes this claim seriously) is a good
example of a technology oriented villain who can create technology
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.
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 later to generate
superpowers. The anti-mutant angst present in Marvel Comics is
not present in the Butlerverse (though a general
anti-superhuman angst is present). Such mutations tend to
become inheritably traits if the mutant has children (meaning that
the mutant's children will tend to inherit his parent's 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.
Like the wielder of high technology, a character whose powers come
from a mystic artifact 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 power level as the children of gods and
mutants, allowing them to become superheroes. While it is
possible that the character created the object themselves, its 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
almost twenty years. British hero Galahad gains his powers
from the enchanted suit of knightly armor he wears, while famous
"mystic detective" Pamela Odd gains her abilities from an enchanted
Beings of this type have stepped right out of fairy tales and myths.
The abilities they possess are traditional for creatures of their
sort. This can sometimes be a weakness if the type of creature
(and thus it's 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, while the child-snatching villain
Black Annis is one of the Fae.
Through long, hard study and meditation, these characters have
learned to harness 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. The Warlock, mystic defender of the Earth and
generally considered the most powerful wizard on the planet, is said
to have studied magic for two centuries before ascending to his
position. On the other hand, the Native American hero
Brightfeather (member of the High Rollers alongside the
already-mentioned King) channels his mystic energy into making him
stronger and faster than normal.
Physical and Mental
Training: This category includes almost every martial
arts- and athletics-related characters in the Butlerverse.
Such characters have practices 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 of San Francisco and the Quarterback of New York are both
examples of superheroes who have trained their bodies to their peak
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 has 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, was busily experimenting with a strange isotope when
something went drastically wrong, caught a strange and exotic
disease while exploring the jungle, accidentally drank toxic waste,
or even 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.
Experimentation: Characters of this type gained their
powers intentionally due to some scientific process. Their
powers might not have been exactly what were predicted, but
the fact that they gained powers was expected. In most cases,
the character volunteered for the process, but its 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 from a combination of sources.
For example, a typical "super-archer" often combines Physical Training
and High Technology. They train their bodies to peak perfectioin
and practice archery until they can pass an arrow through spaces a
half-inch wide, and are armed with trick arrows that make use of the
latest in miniaturization and weapons technology.
Demographics: Scholars in the Butlerverse believe the Age of
the Superman (as the present period is called) began in 1929 with the
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 isolated
individuals with strange powers and abilities have always existed on
Earth, 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 earth and seeped into the very being of everything
living on Earth. It was as if a floodgate had opened up.
Because of this explosion, accidents that normally would have killed
or maimed people gave them powers instead. So-called "mystics"
who had previously struggled even to make accurate predictions with a
Tarot deck were suddenly finding themselves of casting true spells,
and so on. At first, the numbers 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 2009, there is roughly one person who can be
considered truly "superhuman" per million people who aren't -- or
roughly 7000 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 and other inherently
"super-powered" non-humans. Current estimates number such beings
at around 900, bringing the total number of superhumans to 7900, give
Superhumans Worldwide: 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) and Khazakstan,
on the other hand, 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, Khazakstani has yet to produce any superhumans at
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%.
Levels: 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 slightly quicker-than-normal
resources, 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 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 be. 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 in his work as a wine producer.
Heroes and Villains:
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).