Justin Mohareb On… Nightmares of Futures Past
Each week, one of Biff Bam Pop’s illustrious writers will delve into one of their favorite things. Perhaps it’s a movie or album they’ve carried with them for years. Maybe it’s something new that moved them and they think might move you too. Each week, a new subject, a new voice writing on… something they love.
One of my favourite Superhero RPG accessories was the Nightmares of Futures Past series for TSR’s classic Advanced Marvel Superheros system. Marvel Superheroes was a licensed RPG produced by the creators of Dungeons & Dragons that used a unique colour chart resolution system.
Marvel Superheroes was a big part of my nascent interest in RPGs. It combined my interest in RPGs with my love of the Marvel Universe and provided a streamlined system to play in.
Nightmares of Futures Past was a strange piece of RPG history. It expanded on what was the then undeveloped Days of Future Past setting (I believe Rachel Summers was still to come or just recently arrived) and introduced me to the sandbox style of game adventures. A sandbox RPG is a game where there’s not much metaplot to work with. The GM & the players work with the world and decide what sort of adventures they’d face. An evening’s excitement could be launched by a player going “my character wants to do this” and the GM building as tory with the players about the repercussions of that character’s actions.
Whereas most of the MSH books were fairly railroady (you played specific characters and went through very specific adventures in pretty specific order) this one basically set up the details of the setting and let the players loose. “These are the sentinels, this is how they’ll track down your PC, this is the prison camp they’ll put your PC into, this is what your PCs must do to avoid them, and… GO!”
The four books of the series are each written by a different author, and it shows. The first is by Steve Winter, who co-created the Marvel Superheroes line. It includes details of the world the Sentinels have created and how mutants have to struggle to survive in it.
X-Ponential, the second module, is by Mark Acres and is the weakest & most linear of the series. It also abandons some of the subtlety of the first one, making the villains members of the NASI party (National American Social Improvement party) who rule the streets through their whiteshirts.
Reap the Whirlwind, the third module, is by Warren & Caroline Spector and is as good as you’d expect from two genre stars. It contains several adventures detailing how you can take the revolution against the Sentinels from survival to resistance. There are appearances by a couple established Marvel Universe characters, and the PCs can pick up their own version of the Iron Man armour.
Flames of Doom by David “Zeb” Cook is the final module and outlines how to wrap up a campaign by running a revolution. There’s four different revolutions to pick from, each of which may or may not be viable depending on what the players have done.
This book also has the most backstory to it, because Marvel had expanded on the Sentinel timeline in their main books, and Cook takes care to integrate a lot of Marvel events such as the Trial of Magneto and Dazzler: the Movie into the background.
The series allowed you play your own original PCs (most of the classic characters were dead or interned at this point). Character creation was one of MSH’s great strengths, and this book would let you play almost any character.
It was a great series. It emphasized the struggle of mutants and their allies to rise up against their oppressors. It would allow for as much paranoia and betrayal as a player group might be comfortable with, and started slowly with parallels to living in historical fascist cultures. But the opportunity to rise up and take the battle to the oppressors was always a present option.
I never got to play it, mind you. But like most role-players I have a multiverse of games I’d like to play someday that I probably will roll the dice on before I die. This is probably at the top of the list.