Imagine a time of great change, a new and unique popular music, the emergence of organized crime in many cities in the US, a ubiquitous underworld, rebellious youth culture, lots of stories of adventure and science, and many people pushing to the limits of human ability and endurance.
Well, if you consider women voting, the emergence of jazz (specifically Dixieland), people from Joe Kennedy to Al Capone to making fortunes running rum, the speakeasy culture, The Lost Generation and flappers, the birth of Amazing Stories, much of Lovecraft’s stories (the landmark Call of Cthulhu was written in 1926 and published in 1928), and things as serious as Lindbergh flight and as frivolous as pole-sitting(although it has a serious religious history).
So why not superheroes? I thing the 20s is a completely ignored period for superheroes, at least in gaming.
Potential heroes could include:
Pole Star: With the emergence of the first Polish nation in over a century the resulting surge of nationalism would inspire one young lady to become the embodiment of the Polish nation. Her powers first appeared on the battlefields of Polish-Soviet War when she blinded an entire Soviet infantry company (leading to their capture) with her “star light”.
The Limmerick: An Irish veteran of the war against British known for his banter while running circles around British troops later showed how literal those circles were. This speedster was also know for his improvised vibes at his opponents.
The Stylist: A record holder during the pole sitting fad would achieve a form of enlightenment and bodily control and go on to fight crime with his mental powers and unstoppable fists.
The Drunken Brawler: The other great fist fighter of the first generation of superheroes was a college student who first learned of his alcohol fueled powers while defending his girl and several others when a gang hit went down in his favorite speakeasy.
The Mol: However, The Drunken Brawler’s girlfriend needed protection the least. A champion trick shooter she would go on to join him in crime fighting in the Northeast US. Given his need for the illegal gin to fuel his abilities she actually held the more prominent position and certainly was the public face of the Flapper Duo.
I think a 1920s game would work best with a few ground rules:
- The nature of the heroes is probably better at a lower power level (even the original Superman was less powered than today) and with attitudes halfway between classic pulp heroes such as The Shadow and Doc Savage and the Superheroes decended from them. Domino masks and stylized street clothes should be preferred over tights.
- A lighter, early Silver Age style should prevail and even then a more DC “golly, gee why can’t she love me instead of Green Lantern” feel than a “how will I take care of Aunt May” Marvel feel.
- At the same time, this is the party before we all die in the wake of WWI. Most men who are heroes are probably veterans of that war and their angst over the killing and senselessness of the war is good. Codes against killing as well as superheroics being an expression of things such as finding meaning or thrill seeking (similar to the emergence of biker gangs after WWII) are good uses of the effects of the war.
- The Mysterious East is a double edged sword. Yellow peril is in the air and the Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu (or a suitable clone) is almost required. At the same time characters like Larry Darrell are finding a way to deal with the war and some mysterious powers (even Darrell uses hypnotism) in the Orient.
- National heroes could pop up all over Europe with the changes due to the war. That same nationalism deposed many monarchs who could make great villains or national heroes depending on how you play it. Is the Kaiser a villain scheming to re-enslave Germany or the last person defending it to the world?