“We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.” – George Bernard Shaw
I’m getting older. And the older I get the more I notice – roleplaying games bend towards stories about the young. The characters taking the hero’s journey are typically growing and expanding their abilities and powers, which is very much a young person thing
Its different as you get older. There’s less thought given to the possibilities of the future, and more thought given to hanging on to the past. Rather than looking forward to increasing success of the future, you focus more on not losing the successes of the past.
For awhile now I have been thinking about games and settings that typically feature young people and reskinning them to feel more authentic to the process of getting older. When I looked at Masks: a New Generation by Magpie Games I was immediately struck by the youth of the game – characters were all teens or young adults, and a major theme of the game was taking on the mantle of a hero as the torch is passed from the previous generation of heroes. I wanted instead to come up with a setting where the torch of heroism was being picked up by an older generation – the people our society envisions as lying in the sun, enjoying retirement, having done their bit.
A big issue on the minds of everyone over 50 is Alzheimer’s disease. It is estimated that 44 million people worldwide suffer from it. The effects are terrifying – loss of memory, loss of capability, destruction of much of the self. Research to finding a cure runs into billions every year. One day a cure will be found.
But what if that cure comes with added benefits? Superscience is a staple of superheroic stories. What if those who initially take it are not only cured of the disease, but gain powers as well? That was my thinking in writing up Masks: the Regeneration.
In 2012 an international pharmaceutical conglomerate announced a stunning discovery – a drug had been developed that cured Alzheimer’s Disease. Diphrenoline-B, more commonly marketed as Memazol, proved to be highly successful at reversing severe Alzheimer’s disease, with a success rate of over 90%. In fact, the more advanced the condition was, the more successful Memazol was in treating it. In some cases the drug also reversed certain other effects of aging such as muscle deterioration and nerve damage, leading to it being touted as an anti-aging drug.
The drug was not, however, a panacea, and had some severe drawbacks. Chances of a successful cure were significantly lower for moderate levels of Alzheimer’s and less than 10% for mild Alzheimer’s. Use also appeared to inoculate the patient against future effectiveness of the drug. Take the drug too early and not only was the chance of success low, but you would not be able to take it later when you got worse. It also had severe health effects on people without Alzheimer’s, including organ damage, psychosis, severe allergic reactions, and in some cases death.
Finally, it was soon discovered that Memazol had an additional effect.
It made metas.
Around 10% of those cured by the drug began manifesting extraordinary powers, usually about a year after treatment. To date attempts to determine who gets powers and what powers they get have proven unsuccessful, though labs all over the world are working.hard to research (and weaponize) the drug and control its effects.
Memazol was officially banned by the United Nations in 2016 “pending further research”, but thr resolution has been largely ignored worldwide
First, as a note, I am not going to bother updating the language on all the playbooks to represent the fact that all the characters are older, not teens. It seems to be more effort than it’s worth at this point. I will happily work with players to resolve any incongruities. The thing to remember during character creation is that you’re character is, well, old. A few Metas may be in their 30s through fifties, but most are going to be 60 or older. And they suffered from Alzheimer’s – a terrible disease that robbed them of memories, capabilities, knowledge, and functionality for years – even decades. In many ways they are similar to the character archetypes in Masks – their lives are in a transition. But instead of the child-to-adult transition of Masks, they are in an Alzheimer’s-to-mental-capability transition.. They find themselves awakening from a period of time lost partially or wholly, with memories that may not be entirely reliable (and in the case of some like the Newborn may not exist at all) into a world that has changed during their absence. And they have strange abilities that they never had before, so they are not familiar even with themselves. It is their struggle to step back into the world that is the central theme of Masks: the Regeneration.
“Adult Moves” are more properly titled “Integration Moves” (though that’s a sucky name and I hope to come up with something more pithy) as they represent the characters becoming more comfortable with their current environment and more sure of themselves. But we’ll leave them be for the moment as it just doesn’t seem worthwhile to change all the character sheets for just that one label.
As indicated in the brief history, there have not been three prior generations of hero in this setting (hence a couple of the playbooks have been eliminated). Superheroes have been around for less than ten years. Nevertheless there has been time for society to become aware of, and deal with, metas.
Characters are likely in the best health, physically and mentally, that they have been in years. But that doesn’t mean they’re 20 again. At some point life stops being about expanding horizons, and starts being about holding on to the horizons you already have. An at some point past that it gets to be about fighting a graceful delaying action against the sunset. To represent this, whenever you roll a natural “2”, downshift the label that you used for the roll by 1 point, to a maximum of -2. If you ever have to downshift a label that is at -2, you instead acquire the condition of that label permanently. You may continue using experience to improve the label, but the condition remains.
(with revised backgrounds)
You were cured of your Alzheimer’s without any of the side effects. You gained no powers, no abilities
But you wished you had.
You could have gone back to leading a normal life. But instead you suit up every day and go out into the world with your brothers and sisters, to help them and to make a difference. You’re outclassed and way out of your depth, but you are doing something you love and making a real difference. At least that’s what you tell yourself while you are waiting for the contusions to heal.
Quite recently you have, in fact, begun to manifest some abilities. Exactly how strong they are and how they will develop you don’t know, but you hope that they will reduce your hospital time.
You were always brilliant – an intellect found only once in a generation. Every project you touched, every apparatus you constructed, every topic you researched blossomed into progress, enlightenment, and profit. You could do no wrong, until the terrible day that you did. That day haunted the rest of your life.
In a way, Alzheimer’s was a blessing. The memories of your shame faded along with the rest, leaving you in a blissful state of forgetfulness. But your mind was considered to great a resource to waste, so you were dosed with Memazol, given the best of care, and monitored.
And then the memories came back.
You represent everything that Memazol was supposed to do – not only cured of Alzheimer’s, but with greatly enhanced intellect . You have chosen to put that intellect to use in the service of humanity with like-minded heroes in dire need of your genius.
One of the most common side effects of Memazol is increased strength, toughness, and aggression. The very first publicly known meta was a Bull, and this has led to a public impression that all metas are strong, tough, and aggressive.
You absolutely fit this stereotype.
You do have a soft side, but you only show it privately to the people you really care about,.
Before Alzheimers you were very much a play-by-the-rules sort of person – never drove over the speed limit, only crossed at crosswalks, never cheated on your income taxes, tithed 10%.
Then you got sick and discovered that all that time playing by society’s rules got you nothing. You were tossed into a decaying care facility and left to rot both mentally and physically.
When Memazol came along, you almost didn’t get it – the facility was afraid of going out of business if the disease was cured. But some good samaritan snuck the drug in and gave it to as many patients as possible – including you. That taught you something: the rules are for suckers.
Now you do things your way, and aren’t afraid to tell others – even your friends – when they are wrong.
You were cured of Alzheimer’s just in time to be diagnosed with a different, fatal disease. You should be taking it easy, resting, saving your strength. But you got powers, and you intend to use them. It doesn’t matter that all the stress and injury are making your condition worse. It doesn’t matter that the use of your powers is quickening your end.
You are one of the fortunate few who were given the ability to really make a difference in this world, and you intend to make the most of the short time you have left.
Once you had a full life. A satisfying life. A life you loved, doing things you loved. Your appointment calendar was always full, and you were seldom still for long.
Then Alzheimer’s happened and that life was taken from you. Increasingly your days were spent in a confused fog of time and space.
But you were treated, you recovered, and now you want that old life back. The only problem is that you have a new life to go with it – the life of a meta. You struggle to keep your two lives separate, and dread the day that they finally collide. Until then, your schedule is once again full, and you are seldom still for long.
There is someone who means more to you than life itself. All through the dark oblivion of Alzheimer’s their memory was the one constant in your life.
Now you are cured and you have powers. And so are they. Perhaps they remember you. Perhaps not. But they are the foundation of your life and you would be lost without them.
[NOTE: The Joined is connected to another PC, and requires that player’s permission.]
Nothing. That’s what you remember from your life before you were cured.
Absolutely nothing. No family, no friends, no childhood, no life. You can speak, but have no idea how you learned. Your life began when you were cured of Alzheimer’s.
Luckily for you, you met a group of people who steered you towards the light, and are willing to accept you for who you are now.
It’s time for you to learn just who that is.
Not only did you get powers you got more than most. Your abilities are varied, flexible, useful in almost any situation… and hard to control. Novas are well known to the public, and along witn Bulls are the epitome of the perception of Metas as dangerous and out of control.
You need to be careful to remain in control at all times, lest your powers overwhelm you and cause untold destruction. Going out into the world as a crime fighter is as much about learning to control your powers as is is about doing good.
You can do things none of your friends can do, but you fear the day when you slip up and others pay the price for your mistake.
As your Alzheimers worsened, you slowly slipped into a world of the mind. Over time it became more and more familiar to you until your memory of the old world, and your old life, were all but forgotten and you lived entirely within your own head for years. When you were cured, nothing was familiar, or even recognizable to you. Even those who called themselves your family were known to you only through their stories.
The world you have come to seems so much bleaker than the world in which you once lived, and one day you will return. Until then you strive to make the world a better place, to help those in need, and to stand with your friends as you would have in your previous life.
You were one of the first to be cured, and the first to gain powers. But you were unsure of yourself, a bit too hesitant to step into the limelight as a true hero. Metas were too new for you, the world was too new for you. You had never been a leader in your old life, and you weren’t sure you wanted to be a hero in this new world either.
So you sidekicked for another hero, remaining in their shadow and doing the grunt work – handling the details so that they could stay in the limelight and you could stay out of it.
But now your hero is gone. Died, moved to Florida to be with the grandkids, estranged after an argument – it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you’re on your own now.
Except that you aren’t. During your time of sidekicking, you and your hero become involved with other heroes and some of them have become friends.. Going it alone has been difficult, perhaps you would be better off with others?
But will you again stay in the background, or step up to be an equal?
You were a bad person. A career criminal, you spent your time alternating between committing crimes and paying for them. You got Alzheimer’s while in prison, and it eventually got bad enough that you were granted a “compassionate release” (ie dumped at a bus station). How you came to get treated with Memazol while living on the streets you do not know., but you “woke up” one day and discovered you had powers.
You tried returning to your life of crime, and even made a bit of a name for yourself and gathered a few henchmen. But the memories of your past misdeeds haunted you, and you gave up your criminal ways to become a hero. There are many on both sides of the law that have not forgotten your past, but you have found friends who support you in your new life.
You used to be normal. You had a life, a job, a family, and a body that looked like everyone else’s. People didn’t stare or cross the street when you were near, and no one whispered behind your back.
When you finally awoke from the long and confusing nightmare of Alzheimer’s, you discovered that your body had changed almost beyond recognition. It was completely impossible to disguise and even the most casual glance would reveal your differences. Your new appearance isolated you from society – even your own family was uncomfortable around you
Except to your fellow Metas, who accepted you into their ranks.
Now you have a team that are as as close to you as your family once was. They judge you not by your appearance but by your actions. They would die to protect you. And you would do the same for them
There is a lot that could still be done to develop this idea into a full-fledged supplement. Certainly there is language both in the rules and on the character sheets that needs editing. Probably there are entirely new playbooks that could be developed. As it stands there will undoubtedly be times when the GM will need to work with the players to hash out a conflict between the original Masks and the spirit of this idea. But I hope you enjoy what is here. Ideas and comments are welcome.
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And for those who would like to see, I made a character: