Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Campaign Idea: Fantasy Doom Patrol

Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol is a great comic series. The basic premise consists of a team of superheroes whose various powers are tightly linked to their crippling disabilities. Robotman, for example, is described as an 'omniplegic' since his entire body was destroyed and replaced by a robotic shell. Crazy Jane has multiple personalities (and a different power for each personality); the Chief is in a wheelchair, and Rebis is... I don't even know how to explain Rebis.

But the corollary to these flawed characters is the idea that: fucked up heroes may be your only hope when fucked up times arrive. For example, the first story arc of Morrison's run involves the real world being invaded by fictional characters from an evil book, and the Doom Patrol must defeat them by finding a priest with a clock for a face and posing him a tautological question that causes his entire reality to collapse.

See, although it isn't often highlighted, the Doom Patrol technically exists in the wider DC Universe alongside Superman, Batman and the rest of the mainstream heroes. There's even a scene in the first story arc where Robotman says: "If we had any sense, we'd call Superman." To which the chief replies: "We don't need Superman." But what he could have said was: "What the hell could Superman do in this situation?" Superman punches out giant robots and aliens. He's not cut out to deal with ontological horrors from the pages of Jorge Luis Borges. That's why you've got to call the Doom Patrol.

So what does all this have to do with Dungeons & Dragons? Let me explain. I like to mess around with the 4E Character Builder from time to time, usually creating the strangest race/class combinations I can think of. I've got a dwarf vampire, a psionic goblin, a pixie barbarian, a robot paladin and an undead warpriest. Where the character options in previous editions can be pretty restrictive and po-faced (no Gnome Paladins for you!), 4th ed really benefits if you don't take it too seriously. And these off-the-wall character concepts are starting to sound a lot like the Doom Patrol.

Warforged Fighter, Eladrin Rogue, Genasi Wizard
So here's the pitch for a 4E campaign: The players can make whatever characters they want, but they have to have some reason to be fucked up and exiled from society. If they don't have a weird class/race combo, then the player has to think of some other reason why their character is on the outer edge. The setting of this campaign is a peaceful kingdom protected by a party of glorious adventurers in all the most canonical roles - Human Rogue, Elf Wizard, Human Cleric, Dwarf Fighter. These are the guys who wear the posh armour, ride around on parade floats, and receive the adulation of the populace. You don't get to be those guys. Instead, you get to be the Fantasy Doom Patrol - the kingdom's other team of adventurers, who deal with all the weird shit that the mainstream heroes won't touch with a 10-foot pole. While they're travelling to the Mountain of Mystery, you're poisoning the food supply of undead illithids on the dark side of the moon.While they're slaying the dragon, you're fighting a telepathic moat that strangles castles in their sleep. When they return home with the Three Legendary Weapons of the Gods, you've brought back a mysterious black statuette that triples in mass when you turn it upside down.

Oh yeah, and you're such a bunch of freaks and outcasts that most of the people you've saved from annihilation wouldn't want to piss on you if you were burning. But that's just the way it is for the Fantasy Doom Patrol.

Edit 24/6/12: Looking back on this post, I think it's probably kind of ableist, that is - talking about how it would be cool to play as disabled superheroes who are "fucked up" is pretty insensitive to people who are really disabled. I still think this is a cool idea, in fact I'm likely going to be running it very shortly, but I definitely want to move away from the disability angle, which wasn't a large part of the concept anyway. When I say the heroes are "fucked up" what I really want to focus on is just that they have bizarre powers and are generally counter-culture to the bland mainstream heroes. 

Does this mean Doom Patrol is insensitive also?? I'm not sure but I think not because Grant Morrison deals with the issues in subtle and interesting ways; I can't do that because I'm not Grant Morrison and also I'm running an RPG which entails thinking about a hundred other things already.

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