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Superheroes in a fantasy setting

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The basic question is, what would a superhero look like in a fantasy world of magic and monsters?

I have some thoughts but am looking to collect other opinions so I can build on and explore those thoughts a little bit more. 

If I have to set a tone for the conversation I want to skew more towards "open speculation" and less towards "definitive/inevitable declarations". I don't want to be led to a conclusion that it must be this or that way so much as discuss the various possibilities. 

I'll circle back to include some thoughts but let's. get. discussing!

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I suppose the first point to address is powers and the matter of the word super. Every character with an ability is not necessarily hero/villain oriented, but just having powers in such a setting wouldn't make one super.

An example of a system is in the anime my hero academia, where 80% of the population has some kind of ability. There seem to be some parallels to terranus' safe act. Only certified public servants, heros, are allowed to openly use thier ability for the public good.

That brings us to the second point. Actually being heroic. Some flakey edgelord with an overwhelming power written in is what he/she is, not a hero.

While it's hard to say exactly what a superhero would be required to have here but there should be some standards that they're held to as they'd be highlighted in at least a sub forum.

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That's where my thought process was, including using MHA as a benchmark. There we see "powers" being the norm, "superheroes" being licensed agents of the law or unlicensed criminals. 

"Super", as it applies in comic book fare, can be taken to mean as "beyond the normal". So in this fantasy setting would "superheroes" be heroes that are just more powerful than normal? If everyone can cast a fireball but my fireball is twice as big or burns twice as hot, is "power" one of the primary indicators of what would make up a superhero?

At this point I think it would be an IC cultural distinction and whether a specific area favors raw power or other, less tangible metrics, like altruism or effecting social change. Is a plant-o-kinetic a superhero if they use their power to feed people rather than to stop criminals? 

Does it have to do with enforcing the law? 

Edited by supernal

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In MHA some certified heroes focus on a specialty that isn't fighting. Ex, rescuing. One of them only got his hero license so he wouldn't be bothered about his quirk use. And quite a few pro heros have side jobs.

As long as the hero is an upstanding member of society, there are quite a few ways the how of the matter can branch out.

As for power. Let me be clear. I will in no way endorse that the mere addition of a title as something that allows increased power to be allotted to a character. It doesn't matter if that title is hero, villain, king, ect.

The devil fruit progression from one piece.... At least from the amount that I read, gives a solid guide. The power itself remains the same from consumption to present. It is only by the user innovating and coming up with more effective ways to use thier power that they become more formidable.

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Potential doesn't equal execution to me. Being in a world where every one *could* use magic doesn't mean every one will. We live in a world where every one could play music but only a minority (like many things, seemingly Pareto distributed) actually discipline themselves to. Every second white guy has a guitar collecting dust in a corner instead of being utilized and the same could be said of MMA, fitness, dancing, or any other skill.

In a world where magic exists, it becomes a skill (even if unconscious) and the fact potential is rampant wouldn't have much bearing on actual execution, I think.

Edited by Off Topic

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(Long post ahead!)

All of my Watchers characters are basically superheroes - except they don't wear silly costumes. They wear completely functional armor.

They are a group of extraordinary people that all wield superhuman abilities for the greater good of mankind - taking on everything from mundane stuff like purse snatchers and muggers to supernatural threats like monsters and demons. That's the mark of what we call a hero.

As for the whole "Super" thing, it's a bit more complex - but I'd say that it falls in line with the "we help the law enforcement out with altruistic ideals in mind". Furthermore, I'd say it follows the heavily debated "Don't kill your enemies" rule that most comic book characters follow. Obviously, given that it's a fantasy setting, actually following with the rule of not killing anyone is going to be a bit of a stretch - but it can be done.

Now, I'm planning on retconning my group so that members Arthur and Elias haven't ever killed before joining the team - and they won't, unless it's under the most extraordinary of circumstances. Arthur, given that he's a former City Guardsman actually has a license to kill in self defense - so he has a bit more leniency in that regard - yet he's preferred not to use that license. 

The three brothers, Nathan, Gale and Max - have killed humans before in Iselyr - but upon coming to Genesaris they adopt the no-killing rule for two reasons: First, they are not in their homeland anymore, so they prefer to do things differently. They act in accordance with Genesaris' laws.

They bend the law a bit by fighting criminals, but they don't break the law by going that extra step and killing their opponents. It means they are technically not acting outside the system. Furthermore, it shows they are better than their enemies by acting with restraint in regards to how they use their powers.

Second, sure, there's tons of people with greater abilities than them (good thing too, because OP characters are boring) who happily abuse their powers for selfish gain, but that's precisely the point. The Watchers want to show they are moral, yet still powerful enough to cause change. They try to create a selfless example for others to emulate.


Obviously, the Watchers' actions are controversial; not often shown, but there are those that disagree with them and their methods. Half of them I imagine would think their measures are ineffective - that they are weak for not killing their enemies and need to put down the bad guys permanently. Others think they can't be trusted to make the decision on who gets beaten up and should answer to some higher authority.

The other half are those that just think they are straight-up heroes, which they are. Like the Avengers, they are a group dedicated to taking on any big threat to the world as a whole first - then they take their spare time in beating up more mundane, street-level baddies.


(Footnote: Destroying demons does not violate the no-killing rule in the Watcher's minds, as they are not living in the strictest sense of the word. They are not human and don't possess souls, so therefore it's not unlawful murder. Same rule applies for the undead. End footnote.)

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Thanks for the comments and the food for thought.

I think OT hit on something in a GCHAT wheree where he touched on recognition and attention equating to power in some intangible form or another. I know in myths there are gods whose power/ability to influence is directly correlated to how many worshippers they have - in that perspective faith is a numbers game, and you won't have the faith of followers if followers don't even know you exist

So being a known entity is important. Stopping back alley muggings may not be enough. 

Another thing that has me thinking is MHA. They don't use the term "superhero" ever in the anime from what I can tell. But "pro hero". A professional hero. My further thoughts may contain spoilers so avoid if you're the type.

So true to the form of a professional hero, the idea is that to be a pro hero you have to be licensed, and to be licensed you have to pass hero school, go to an internship, and perhaps most critically and touched on by Nathan, is acting in accordance with the law. There are pro-heroes that liaise with law enforcement, cops, the coast guard, etc. And there are villains, who don't.

The meet-cute female lead of MHA has a goal in mind which hints at the fact that there are a lot of heroes who use their powers for utility, for construction work say, which would open up another avenue to explore if not for the fact that these, too, need to go to school and pass an internship and be licensed it seems. 

It raises to me the question of the vigilante. What happens if you're a good-aligned person with hero powers that goes after criminals, that goes after perhaps even corrupt law enforcement agents/agencies, but doesn't play by or adhere to their rules? It's difficult to place them in this simple dichotomy of hero vs villain, questions like "pro" and "super" aside. I anticipate if the story being told in MHA ever goes to include this, and it may very well not, it'll just create a third class and call them vigilante or something like that. But we'll see - that's a separate conversation entirely about the anime and not about the question of the superhero. 

So in short the takeaways I'm getting are that in a fantastical environment where super is in fact the norm, the primary difference becomes one of qualification - is this a job for which you're getting paid (a profession), are you certified, are you acting within the law, as you do heroic things? 

Here the "supernatural detective" wouldn't be Constantine or the Supernatural Bros, it would be the Wire or 24 with magical elements worked into the workaday procedure of cop-life.

Interesting thoughts, interesting stuff. I'll see where this takes me. Thanks for the chat one and all

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Hero Killer Stain was a bit 'Vigilante' in his type, if not twisted to the absolute extreme. They just called him villain, outside the law means you are such.

MHA plays black and whites inside a gray world, interestingly. It tends to show a black and white good and evil while having many of the characters fit more into a gray category.

Hero Killer Stain, the 'burned' kid who hasn't shown up much in anime yet, Bakugo, the number 2 hero Endeavor being not so subtly hinted at abusing his wife, etc etc etc.

I believe that is intentional - the laws are rigid and unmoving, those who don't fit into that mold are villains no matter their intention. I imagine if superpowers were real that would likely be true of reality, you either play the game or your a target for heroes - even if your cause is noble, trying to route out some perceived or real corruption.

 This means a number of characters in other media who would be more traditional anti-hero, coloring outside the lines and skirting the laws instead are simply 'heroes'. Characters like Bakugo, Burn Boy, Endeavor and even to some extent Hero Killer Stain would be popular, 'brooding' anti-heroes in shows like Naruto or Dragonball, bad guys with good intentions. Because the laws are loose, and they can make morally questionable choices without punishment. 

In MHA they MUST follow the law, so you get this interesting situation where a traditionally 'Vegeta' type character in Bakugo is more a comedic foil then a legitimate anti-hero because he can't take liberties - he can't take a different path then Midoriya or he becomes a villain. 

Sort of irrelevant to the conversation, but I tend to do that. 

Edited by Teivel Morteus

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