Industrial Evolution is set in an alternate Ann Arbor, sometime in 2003. (When the game starts, the calendar date will match the date of the first session.)
The game world diverged from our world back in World War II. In our world, biological weapons played only a very minor role in WWII. In the game world, Germany had biological weapons geniuses just like it had rocket geniuses. The fruits of their labor were used extensively on the Eastern Front, leading to mass depopulation of Eastern Europe. As with the rocket program, the USSR and USA raced to get the best experts out of Germany and incorporate them into their own programs.
Due to the huge number of casualties caused by bioweapons during WWII, the USSR was unable to threaten the USA in the hard sciences. They were too busy rebuilding from the war to plausibly attack NATO in a conventional fashion. However, the paranoia and dislike between East and West was real, and the USSR was always searching for a weapon that could give them parity. If they could achieve a commanding lead in bioweapon technology, they could remove the threat of NATO while taking only minimal losses themselves.
As a result, bioweapons research was a crucial part of the USA-USSR arms race from the 1950s right up to the fall of the USSR in the early 1990s. Now the fear is that terrorists will gain biological weapon capabilities.
During the early 1970s, during a period of detente between the superpowers, the existence of superheroes on both sides of the Iron Curtain was acknowledged. The first few reports in the late 1960s were dismissed as myths, of course, but my 1973 there were over one hundred people worldwide with various powers that could not be explained by science. Several went to work for their governments, adding a new aspect to the cold war and contributing to renewed tensions in the early 1980s. Despite attempts to do so, however, no government was able to create its own superhumans or gain control of the superhuman element in its population. Nobody could find any link between superhuman powers and diet, location, race, or any other factor. While such research continues to this day, it is generally accepted that they are simply beyond our ability to understand with our current science.
A company called Consolidated MicroBiology (CMB) gets over 40% of federal contracts and research grants in the areas of bioweapons, virology, and studies of the possible source(s) of superhuman abilities. Ann Arbor hosts one of their largest R&D facilities, as well as a small manufacturing and distribution center. The CMB installation on the north side of Ann Arbor is virtually a small city, with over 10,000 employees on the corporate campus.
In the last few years, terrorists hostile to CMB have practically besieged their Ann Arbor facility. Some of those terrorists have superpowers and/or technology far beyond that available to law enforcement. The FBI and DoD eventually admitted that they could not guarantee 100% physical security for the site. At that point, CMB pressured the Michigan state government into providing incentives for superheroes to relocate to Ann Arbor and assist the police, FBI, and DoD.
Officially, the city and state police both offer deputization programs for citizens with "useful abilities". Unofficially, the Governor's office has put a lot of pressure on the police and prosecutors not to interfere with civilian vigilantes whose actions clearly benefit the general public.
Some law enforcment officials refuse to accept those suggestions, and the relationship between the police and the superheroic community can become very tense. Nonetheless, the volatility of the situation, the importance of CMB to the nation's defense, and the possibility of living in a community that (for the most part) actively welcomes their help have drawn many superheroes to Ann Arbor.
On balance, the game world is roughly as good as our own. On the plus side, the economy is somewhat better, due to much lower military spending throughout the cold war. Health care is also better, having benefitted significantly from bioweapons and biodefense research. On the down side, due to awareness of the threat of bioterrorism, the right to privacy has been eroded somewhat, and laws have been passed giving the government sweeping and arguably draconian powers to deal with emergency situations resulting from biological attack.
Jason and Jill will run this game using the Hero System from Hero Games. The game will be run in a semi-diceless manner. Players will create their characters by describing them to the GMs. The GMs will make the characters fit in with the rules of the game, arbitrate combat, and roll all the dice. The intention is to create the feel of a diceless game while preserving the coherency and unpredictability of a diceful game.
A few guidelines for thinking about your character:
All characters should have some plausible reason to be in Ann Arbor using their powers to fight crime.
The characters don't all have to like each other, but it would be nice if they all liked someone. Some intra-party squabbling creates drama; too much inhibits plot.
Feel free to be creative with your character's origin. However, the origin is only what the character thinks happened. If you write an origin involving time-travelling aliens, and we decide that time-travelling aliens would muck up the game, we may decide that your real origin involves CIA experiments with superpowers, hallucinogenic drugs, and hypnosis. If it's vitally important to you that your origin story be literal truth, keep it simple and clear it with us.
Think about what your character will do inside and outside of combat. Beating up bad guys is an important part of the superhero genre, but it's not the only part. Having detective abilities, technical skills, or friends in high places will make your life a lot more well-rounded.
We're shooting for two different levels of realism. Socially, we want lots of it. People don't always get along. Law enforcement may not always like you. Fall in love, break up, whatever... that's all good. On the other hand, combat will be firmly rooted in the comics. PCs *can* die but not at the drop of a hat.
Take "Bad Stuff". In Amber, Bad Stuff equal to 10% of your character points dooms you to a life of suck. In the Hero System, taking problems worth 50% of your total points is hardly unusual. Being hunted by an enemy, having a loved one you have to keep rescuing from trouble, or having a secret vulnerability to weapons made of Tupperware(tm) all make your character more interesting and more powerful. Potentially you could take Disadvantages (the Hero equivalent of bad stuff) worth up to 2/3 of your basic character points- giving you, say, 250 points to play with rather than 150. Don't worry about the specifics of the points, we'll handle those, but do think about what sort of problems your character should have. We've put some suggestions for possible Disadvantages on line.
A few notes about the Hero System:
The system assigns points to almost every power and skill imaginable. Anything you intend to use as part of your superheroic exploits must be bought with points. Want to be hugely stinking rich? We know the points cost for it. Want to pack a concealed pistol in your secret identity? We got points. Underground base? We can handle it.
Sometimes in the game it just makes sense that you'll spend money on crime-fighting stuff. If MindSpammer realizes that the newly-arrived Cyborg Assassin is immune to mind powers but vulnerable to electricity, he might buy a hairdryer and hotwire it into a taser. We're not going to claim that's impossible just because he doesn't have any points to spend. We might, however, decide that the hotwiring went wrong the first try, and he just shocked himself so hard that he lost a few points somewhere else. Or he might have just made a mockery of the FBI profile on him, and they're going to want to bring him in for questioning to figure out why he's suddenly going around electrocuting bad guys. In the end it will all add up.
That being the case, be sure to specify *anything* that you want to make sure your character is able to do. If you want to be remarkably handsome, say so, so we can allocate points for it. The same goes for being a natural leader, an exceptional public speaker, a pickpocket etc. (Yes, there are stats in the game system for measuring social ability and looks.)
Anything you don't spend points on is assumed to be appropriate for the lifestyle of a generic schlub with a bachelor's degree and an adequate job. Assume that your character can have a decent apartment or starter house, a car, and spending money. You'll be average looking, not especially impressive socially, and you won't know anything not taught in a liberal arts school.
Technically I guess you could scam some points off of the GMs by using your personal Honda Civic as your principle crimefighting conveyance. But how would you explain the damage to your car caused by The Evil Zokar's ElectroBiological Rust Creature? Especially since you weren't even "officially" on that side of town that day?
The rules tend to simulate comic books. Accordingly, it's much easier to KO someone or bury them under rubble than to actually kill them dead. There are no rules for wound modifiers (it's not heroic to miss all the time just because you got kicked in the head), but there are rules for determining that your super-strong drop kick just sent the bad guy flying forty-two feet through the air, and for computing how much it would hurt if he hit a wall before his forty-two feet were up.
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