My Champions Online Superhero Character: A Creative Endeavor

February 2, 2011

It might be all the same for some, but because roleplaying is such an important aspect in my MMO gaming, creating a character in a superhero game can mean going through a much different and more convoluted process. After all, besides having to sport a skintight costume that defies all laws of gravity and wedgies, one can argue the most important trait that separates your friendly neighborhood superhero from your typical fantasy or sci-fi MMO character is having an alter ego.

Essentially, I’m creating two personalities — I have my superheroine, and then I have her secret identity that protects her friends and family from being murdered in their beds by her arch enemies, a second mild-mannered persona with which shes uses to disguise herself for the purposes of fighting crime. Along with that, I need a kick-ass origin story. The more traumatic, and the more freak accidents or tragic events involved the better.

At least, that’s how it should work in theory. However, I created my Champions Online character Red Gazelle waaaaaay before I had the chance to really ponder the nature of this duality, or read this post on Blue Kae’s blog that made me consider the many ways a character can take shape in a player’s mind. For him, it happens one of two ways: 1) either he has an idea for a name before building a costume and powers around it, or 2) he has a costume in mind that suggests a certain power build and a name.

Number 2) probably best describes the way I came up with Red Gazelle, but what is probably closer to reality is that I blundered around the character creator messing about with the myriad options before I settled on a look I liked. Anyway, I don’t have an alter ego and I don’t have a backstory, but I am slowly trying to remedy that. I want to gradually build up the RP elements and add depth to my character, and sometimes you just have to do it as you go along.

I ran into a challenge almost right away. When it came to choosing a fast travel power, I saw what was available to me at the time and immediately chose Flight. What can I say? I like being able to travel up vertically as I please and to fly down from great heights without hurting myself. And it doesn’t matter if it’s slower; being able to float over obstacles instead of having to go around is very psychologically gratifying for me. It was working out quite well, until the guilt started chafing me at the back of my mind.

You see, in wanting to develop a good RP background and story for the Red Gazelle, I also wanted to do a good job of it. I wanted the whole picture, and I knew I couldn’t achieve this by throwing a bunch of costume pieces and random powers together, even when it’s a convenient one like Flight. I’m a “I-want-a-travel-power-to-match-the-kind-of-hero-I-am” kind of player, and so you see the reason behind my bad conscience — gazelles don’t freaking fly.

In the end, I replaced Flight with Super Speed which suited my character better, even though it’s a little less efficient especially in the urban jungle that is Millennium City with its many looming buildings and twisting alleyways. It’s strange, though; while I did sacrifice some convenience for the sake of roleplay, at the same time there is just something so wonderful about having that choice to make in the first place. It was strangely encouraging, and somehow increased my appreciation for CO. There is great fun and pride in seeing your character and his or her story evolve over time, and I look forward to discovering more of this game.


  1. only in a superhero world would that “mask” protect one’s identity.

    • What mask? Oh sorry I wasn’t looking high enough.

    • True, I think mine is even worse than Clark Kent’s “disguise”!

  2. I’m much more likely to generate a character with a back story in a Super Hero MMO than in most MMOs. I’ll often recreate PnP characters from old GURPs supers or Marvel Superheroes campaigns as best I can. In one case, I made a hero in COX modeled on a roommate that was obsessed with plants. “Crazy Plant Lady” the plant domninator was born (she loved it). CoX and CO give you enough flexibility that you can take a decent stab at just about anything you dream up.

    However, I’m also just as happy to mess around with the character generator and settle on something that’s visually striking to me. Sometimes power choices seem to fall into place just from the look of a character.

    One of my favorites that I came up with this way was a CoX character named Frito. He looked like a 3 foot tall, insanely ripped shirtless goth clown with a crazed grimace and bright orange hair. It was obvious the moment I rolled him that his travel power needed to be super running, and his attacks based on darkness.

    • That’s pretty much what I was musing in my post, the fact that superhero characters just seem to require so much more development on the player’s part. And like you said, sometimes the stories and the ideas just flow effortlessly, whether you start with a look or you start with a power.

      Myself, I started with the costume and she just looked like a lithe character who seems very agile, so I went instinctively to acrobatics, martial arts and swords.

      And that’s awesome about your goth clown. I’m trying to picture it, and I just really can’t 😛

  3. I’m in the same boat with you on option 2 for characters. I rarely have a look in mind, but usually I end up finding a single costume piece that sparks my interest. That’s how both Blue Ram and Silver Hunter came about. I started with the ram horns and the silver electronic-like costume on CoH and built from there for the rest of the costumes, the names, and the powers. Both had some small alterations when they came over to CO but I tried to keep the foundational inspiration the same.

    • It was tough settling on a costume at that! Champions has so many choices and customization options. It was so easy just to go insane with what they give you. I had to remind myself several times to hold back, and retain just a tad of subtlety. Simple and elegant was what I wanted to go for.

      And then the look just sort of materialized and all the powers and the rest just presented themselves. Truly a different but very entertaining MMO character creation process.

  4. I’m really scattershot when it comes to making characters. Usually I have a concept in mind before making a character. But sometimes I want to explore the costume creator and see if some great look pops out at me. My main character, Arcfire, did come from the PnP RPG Champions that I played back in high school. I’m actually pretty happy with how well she’s transitioned to the computer game.

    • You know, that’s what I think happened to me. I had a rough concept in mind that I wanted to bring about, but then I got to the character creator and just got completely sidetracked by all the other cool options 😛

  5. The dichotomy of superhero classification is so complex, sometimes I find myself separating things into two groups just for simplicity sake: DC or Marvel.

    If I’m honest, I think I tend to lean to the Marvel side when I make superhero characters for any game, be it PnP, MMO, console game, etc. Part of the reason is, some of my favorite comic book characters are from Marvel (Wolverine, Havok, Magneto, Apocalypse, Psylocke, Collosus, etc). But it goes deeper still. Another large part of my preference for Marvel-style superhero creation over DC is, Marvel characters don’t tend to hide their identities as much. Hell, a lot of mutants CAN’T hide their powers, or at least can’t hide it as well as some others. Cyclops can just wear glasses, but what the #@$! is poor Chamber going to do when he has psionic power bursting out of his mouth and chest, or Beast/Hank McCoy, whose “incognito” outfit seems to consist of wearing a hat and trenchcoat, hoping nobody will notice how blue and hairy he is underneath.

    Some Marvel characters do take on an alter ego, but few do it because they feel like they need to hide their identities. I think that is why Marvel superheroes appeal to me so much–it saves me from having to create that alter ego for them from scratch.lol

    I’ve never played CO, but it sounds like they take a more DC approach to superhero creation, especially in the way of creating alter egos & backstories.

    If I’m playing in a more “DC” system, I tend to just get wild with my character creation. As a PnP rper, I usually choose whatever personality I feel like I’ll have the most fun playing first, then build around that. For instance, I might want to play a native German with a volatile temperament (ala Klaus Kinski) who came to America to hunt down an arch enemy, who takes up acting as an alter ego. After setting up that character base, I’ll build my powers based on what I think will be most fun to use on people when my character gets uber pissed (anything that shatters glass would be super sweet, as well as anything to do with Hulk-like super strength).

    • I tend to lean towards the Marvel side too, but then I’m a much bigger Marvel fan than I am of DC. Their stories just tend to be better, imo, and I’ve always thought that this was because of the writers. It’s never occurred to me, though I am seriously contemplating it now, that this could be due to the the characters hiding/not hiding their identities. You’re right, the only major character who goes out of their way to hide their identity that comes to mind right away is Spider-Man. I say major, because I know there are others who do as well, including Dare Devil etc. but for the most part, most of Marvel heroes are known to the world, and others like the Fantastic 4 or Tony Stark even revel in it.

      Story lines involving the superheroes’ interactions with the general public do often make for more interesting reads, which I find a little lacking in the “old boys’ club” attitude of DC teams like JLA. In fact, one of my favorite Marvel events was “Civil War” a few years ago, where the main conflict was the heroes divided over a “Superhero Bill” which would essentially force them to register with the government and make their identities known, making crime fighters answer to the public. There were a lot of good stories that came out of it that dealt with the characters’ relationships with society.

  6. […] and being able to put together intro posts like this one, which has been a long-standing tradition on this […]

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