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How the Staff Made the Paragons

“I am a Staff Writer for Missing Worlds Media.” I love saying this. It filled me with pride to be able to say it as I introduced myself to people at DragonCon two weeks ago. (See Update 102 for a video of my fellow Staff Writer Stephanie Smith and me, plus artist K.T. “Cajun Catfish” Morriss, doing our panel there!) When I say this, the question people ask most often, aside from “When is your game coming out?”, is “What do you write?”

The simple answer is “everything.” The small corps of City of Titans Staff Writers works on everything from creating the supporting NPCs who will populate the world of Titan City to the design of districts and landmarks to the engineering of stories. Our Composition (writing) Department also includes a hardworking battalion of “bullpen” writers who handle specific, targeted assignments, and their numbers and passion help keep the engine of this game’s writing going. Staff handles structuring the setting’s major story beats and makes sure the setting’s lore includes everything it “needs” to, whether that’s a faction of world-conquering, scorpion-armored troopers or a famous building for villains to menace and heroes to protect.

In particular, we make sure that Titan City features examples of, or at least references, some of the classic tropes and character types from American superpowered adventure comics. These form the central star of the setting’s lore, orbited by more unusual ideas influenced by other genres of fiction like science fiction, horror, or mystery. While individual Staff Writers “write up” particular characters, places, or groups, we often work as a team in brainstorming them. And it is all overseen by our long-suffering Continuity Department, who serves as a comic title’s editor would, ensuring a consistent tone and keeping everyone on task. All these mechanisms help us make the setting feel like a coherent whole, rather than a bunch of random ideas from two dozen different artistic visions.

Let me show you an example, and introduce you to some characters besides. We’re adamant that your player character will be the protagonist of whatever stories you choose to experience as you play through the game. Your character, not a bunch of NPCs, is the hero. (Well, unless you’re a villain; then, you’re the villain!) But Titan City has been home to superpowered heroes for many decades. We needed characters to represent, even embody, the concept of a classic, heroic team. A comics-influenced universe just isn’t the same without an Avengers or a Justice League, after all. These NPCs can serve as allies to heroic PCs, enemies to villainous ones, and, most importantly of all, seeds for stories where the PC can take center stage.

Thus, the Staff team set out to flesh out the Paragons. Given the origin of our community’s seeds, we’d come up with the name even before Missing Worlds Media formed! We knew we wanted a team of eight classic-feeling, iconic, heroic heroes. But the team members did not begin to coalesce until Staff sat down and, over a series of meetings, talked through what we’d need to make a good true-blue hero team.

We knew that our leader would be Anthem. You heard from her in our last fiction-based Update. We knew that she would be the successor of the setting’s most famous hero of all time, the deceased American Star. Thus, she had to be a symbol of honor, courage, decency, and … well, heroism. At the same time, we wanted Anthem to be someone players could relate to, not just another “boy scout” type. After much work, we came out with a balance. Anthem, Harriet E. Ross, is fearless and honorable to a fault and isn’t one to mince words. Being an icon doesn’t come naturally to her, so she works diligently to uphold her ideals and honor her fallen mentor’s memory.

Now that we knew Anthem a bit better, we started thinking through the kinds of characters most iconic in superpowered heroic fiction. This offered us plenty of classic motifs to use … or to subvert. We decided to add a “super-intelligent, unpowered detective” character to the mix. Such a character could be a vital source of tips and story seeds. Rather than the standard ultra-wealthy playboy, we came up with the idea of the character being someone who’d had to struggle to get where she is. When one writer noted that a super-detective character could easily overshadow the PC, another suggested that she have an extremely idiosyncratic way of expressing information, such that she might sometimes have trouble articulating a secret even if she knew it. Thus, Codebreaker was born.

I distinctly recall saying, “Let’s have an aquatic guy. Only not make him lame.” After much discussion, we finally slotted a character designed for a different role, Vodnik, into this spot. He helped round out the team’s personality array as well as its power roster. Despite his fishlike appearance, Vodnik sees himself as a dashing free spirit, the “showboater” of the team. His dialogue, inspired by all the Russian immigrants I have known over the years, has been a joy to write for me personally.

A discussion on magic and demonic invaders led to a fun chat session about an academic who was “half-possessed” by a powerful demon, a concept that comics have explored in many ways over the years. Realizing that our team didn’t have a magician type yet, and that a story might require them to have some magical knowledge, we adapted the character for the Paragons as Cambion. In contrast to Vodnik, who ignores his inhuman appearance, we decided Cambion would be unnerved by his own powers and something of a “reluctant hero.” By this point, we were thinking of the Paragons in terms of how they might perform in battle against a full team of PC villains, and we realized Cambion could fill a “front-rank bruiser” role for them. This gave us an interesting character and another comics trope: the shy, tweedy academic in the body of a monster.

We also agreed that we needed a “team scientist,” because someone has to build those giant mcguffins that the villain (player or NPC) wants to steal or destroy. Eventually, we fit the gadgeteer Particle into this role. His powers, gained in a freak accident, focus on teleportation rather than anything combat-oriented, and we already had plenty of “leap into the melee” Paragons, so we had to struggle for a while with how he’d operate in combat. We eventually hit on the idea of his teleporting various ray-guns and other devices into his hands in battle, making him a fire support character in addition to his out-of-battle role as “tech guy.” To balance his awkward and sometimes inhuman teammates, we made Particle a charming, outgoing man who often serves as the Paragons’ public relations agent.

We also wanted a speedster. Every team needs a speedster, right? One of us hit on the idea of making him a robot named Overclock, and everything about the character immediately fell into place almost magically. Outgoing and friendly to everyone, Overclock is the kind of hero who is as happy retrieving a kid’s lost ball as capturing a villain. Plus, his multi-tasking wireless brain allows him to level up his latest MMO “alt” while going about his daily life. I suspect a lot of us can relate to that!

We also felt we needed a psychic on the team. Like scientists and magicians, they are a fertile source of story plots. At this point, we had a pretty wild crew for our “iconic” team. With Memory, we brought things back to earth, making her an ordinary, well-adjusted person with a happy, moneyed childhood and a celebrity’s comfort in dealing with the public. We also made Memory an heiress, conveniently providing an explanation for how the Paragons can afford to maintain a mansion-base in beautiful Old Bradford, not to mention any other paraphernalia they might need.

Finally, thanks to the need for a stealthy character and one writer’s passion for Japanese culture, we have Arrow Shade. Arrow Shade is a ninja. Arrow Shade does not talk about herself. Arrow Shade will mess you up.

There you have them, the Paragons, Titan City’s most famous hero team. And, hopefully, you have some insight into the process we use to create the building blocks to support the adventures of Titan City’s most important characters of all: yours!

Written by - Jack 'Olantern' Snyder

P.S. We want to show you some of the other heroes and villians of our city, the characters and people that make Titan City live, the greengrocers and gangsters, the spandex clad and costume designers. Who would you like to hear about in future updates? Give us suggestions.

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