Ronin Round Table: Super-Setting Remixes by Steve Kenson

I’ve been asked in interviews just how much of the Freedom City setting for Mutants & Masterminds is my "home" game setting. Surprising to many, the answer is "not much at all." I based fairly little of Freedom City on my own superhero games, partly because the setting started out as a project to create a specific "iconic" kind of superhero setting for publication and partially because, for me at least, "homegrown" settings have more of an organic "patchwork" feel to them, where it would be difficult to sift out the parts I created from the parts I borrowed from all over the place (or "sampled" in music parlance).

You see, my longest running superhero setting started out as a Marvel Super-Heroes game (using the old TSR-era Advanced rules) but I borrowed heavily from major superhero games at the time like Champions and Villains & Vigilantes. One of the first adventures I ran was The Coriolis Effect, and Dr. Arcane’s sacrifice became the inspiration for the player characters to form a team. They received his mansion (near Marblehead, Massachusetts, in my setting) as a bequest from his granddaughter and turned it into their headquarters.

In another early adventure, the heroes fought Armadillo from the Champions rulebook, turning him into the "Stilt-Man" joke character of the series (poor guy couldn’t catch a break). They met the Crusaders from the V&V adventure Crisis at Crusader Citadel (based out of New York City in my setting) and the Soviet characters from the crossover adventure Trouble for HAVOC (with stats for V&V, Champions, and Superworld and, yes, "Soviet," it was 1986…). Nightwraith, a background character from Aaron Allston’s The Circle organization for Champions actually became a player character, when an adventure to find the missing Golden Age hero unearthed him in suspended animation and involved a journey into his mind. One of the players really liked Nightwraith and wanted to play him. Both Nightwraith and Paladin (another PC) were former WWII comrades and members of "The Golden Agency", a name I lifted from Mark Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme. And so on.

Maybe the best example of the "hybrid" nature of the setting was Deathstroke, the most infamous villain team of the game. They were a group of super-powered mercenaries-for-hire who plagued the heroes on a number of occasions. The name comes from the Champions adventure of the same name, but they share no members in common (I just liked the name). Their leader was Metallus, a magnetic controller and transmuter (able to turn people into metal), lifted from the adventure in the Avengers Coast-to-Coast sourcebook for Marvel. His second-in-command was Helm, a "techno-telepath" inspired by Marvel’s Mentallo, DC’s The Thinker, and the cyberpunk craze of the ’80s. There was Jammer, a power-nullifier pretty much borrowed whole-cloth from Scrambler of the Marauders (of Marvel’s "Mutant Massacre") and Temptress, a pheromone-enhanced life-drainer (looks inspired by a number of cat-suited villainesses), plus Incognito, a master of disguise and martial arts, drawing upon Mystique, Wolverine, and Deathstroke the Terminator, amongst others. Lastly, there was the classic Champions villain Ankylosaur (who got taken way more seriously than poor Armadillo, must be the spikey bits). Deathstroke frequently worked for Thomas Frost, a crooked businessman and rival of a PC’s secret identity, very much in the mold of Iron Man’s foe Justin Hammer, or the corporate mogul Lex Luthor of the late 1980s.

Now, I’m not saying no elements of my old superhero games have ever found their way into various things I’ve written. Envoy from the Golden Age Liberty League is heavily based on Paladin, for example, and Incognito wormed his way into the Villainomicon for Icons. And the player characters’ team? They were called "the Paragons", which eventually found a Mutants & Masterminds use (even if it had nothing to do with the original characters or setting).

Personally, I hope many M&M Gamemasters are treating the Freedom City and Emerald City settings, characters, and adventures, in much the same way: mixing and re-mixing elements into their own unique blends of superhero action and adventure. Indeed, I hope Mutants & Masterminds source materials go beyond the game system and find uses in settings and adventures for Champions, Icons, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, Supers! and many other games; my way of "paying forward" for all of the great ideas and fun provided by the superhero RPGs and comics of my youth.

So what’s your style of setting creation: a "canon" published setting like Freedom City or something of your own making? A "remix" from different sources or something drawing primarily from one source? Tell us about your own super-settings (remixed or otherwise) on the Atomic Think Tank forums!