Aberrant: Still Not the Super-Friends

Not a costume.

Some Trinity Continuum fans (and a few creators) hated Aberrant. Hated it. It’s on my mind because the new edition of the game will bear a bit of my influence, since I designed a chunk of the core systems that all Trinity and Scion games will use.

Aberrant had the best setting in the series. I used to consider it the only worthy original supers setting in RPGs until Progenitor came out. Progenitor is awesome, but Aberrant’s a more wide open because it isn’t wedded to the same single origin (it’s there, but not in your face, as it is in Progenitor). Aberrant’s the first “post-superhero” setting, with Watchmen and is successors deeply laced into its inspirational DNA.

(Fun fact, though: The old DC Heroes Watchmen supplement from the 80s is one of the few spinoff things Alan Moore didn’t hate!)

Unfortunately, by the time it was released, the thesis of those comics, which were about asking why we had superheroes, had been overrun by amoral 90s grim killer heroics, and comics were shifting into a reactionary mode to reassure you that Superman’s really an okay guy.

(Zack Snyder seems to have missed every part of this process. Oh well.)

So of course, when the expectation setting “This Is Not The Super-Friends” appeared in the Aberrant Players’ Guide, it sure made folks mad — so mad, I’m not sure many people read past the title.

I did, today. It’s pretty good, and essentially right. Kraig Blackwelder takes time to tell you exactly what he considers a stereotypical superhero to be, and profiles possible Aberrant characters who aren’t like that. It rounds itself out with practical advice: inspirational media, that sort of thing. It’s a functional chunk of text that gets its message across well. People should really read it sometime!

The story’s about “ordinary” supers, because in the post-Watchmen era, the costume isn’t the identity. Identities belong to people. The big costumed figures in the game become distractions, event triggers and messages about the hypocrisy of the superhero identity. This hits the basic ideas behind the post-Watchmen revolution, staking a claim that characters are more important as people than icons. In Aberrant, superheroes are explicitly cultural constructions, adopted by some and suffered by others. Caestus Pax is less interesting than your character. He’s a fraud, a mask over an individual who doesn’t have much going on. Divis Mal is a ideological behemoth masking a flawed individual. (Full disclosure though: I dislike the unrequited love angle introduced in and around Adventure! and find it a little problematic.)

I’m not involved in the new Aberrant, but I hope that the next version of the game remembers the cultural history that created it and made it great, and doesn’t follow the reactionary tendency that followed, where anyone who doubts superheroic good is indulging in “grimdark” excesses. I like aspects of the reactionary era — All Star Superman, for instance — but I don’t think Aberrant is about that. Like the book said, it’s about ordinary people in conflict with extraordinary powers and events, some of which belong to them.


One thought on “Aberrant: Still Not the Super-Friends

  1. That section was exactly right and exactly what was needed for that game. So many supers games are obsessed with recapitulating things about comic books that don’t actually make sense unless the technological, artistic, and cultural pressures of comics in the 70s/80s/90s/whatever are actually pressing down on you. Whereas other games like Brave New World, UNSanctioned, and Aberrant worked to create their own unique feeling and environment. I didn’t like Aberrant because the system didn’t work well enough for me (and other supers games did), but the setting and genre design was top drawer.

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