Campaign Genre Conventions

Richard Reynolds, in his book Super Heroes: A Modern Mythology, offers a "first-stage working definition of the superhero genre" based on a reading of Superman's first, comic, Action #1 (Reynolds p.16): my comments are in square brackets.

  1. The hero is marked out from society. He often reaches maturity without having a relationship with his parents [i.e. conventional authority figures/sources of advice are not available].
  2. At least some of the superheroes will be like earthbound gods in their level of powers. Other superheroes of lesser powers will consort easily with these earthbound deities.
  3. The hero's devotion to justice overrides even his devotion to the law.
  4. The extraordinary nature of the superhero will be contrasted with the ordinariness of his surroundings [i.e. superheroes do not significantly change the nature of the world they live in].
  5. Likewise, the extraordinary nature of the hero will be contrasted with the mundane nature of his alter-ego [i.e. secret identity]. Certain taboos will govern the actions of these alter-egos.
  6. Although ultimately above the law, superheroes can be capable of considerable patriotism and moral loyalty to the state, though not necessarily to the letter of its laws.
  7. The stories are mythical and use science and magic indiscriminately to create a sense of wonder.

He also discusses the conventions of superhero costumes as a system of langue and parole (that is, a structured set of rules within which each individual costume is a specific instance), the different aspects of comic-book continuity (of which he identifies three types, serial, hierarchical and structural) and superheroes as mythology set in modern American society (Reynolds pp.26-37, 37-51, 74-83). A key part of that mythology is that "the normal and everyday enshrines positive values that must be defended through heroic action ... the normal is valuable and is constantly under attack, which means that almost by definition the superhero is battling on behalf of the status quo ... the superhero has a mission to preserve society, not to re-invent it." (Reynolds p.77)

The following dot points build on Reynold's analysis as sketched out above and try to provide some guidance on how superheroic genre conventions affect the campaign.

Costumes and Names

The Role of Heroes

The Law

Science and Magic

The World

maintained by Gary Johnson (gwzjohnson at
last updated 31 December 2018