As part of my job at Upper Deck I work on flavor text for several card games, including our Marvel and DC superhero fighting game, Vs, so I’ve been catching up on the Marvel Universe. Someone I know described the Marvel writing and the MU in general as a “soap opera” given all the crazy plot twists, and my readings this weekend reinforce that.
Case in point, the character Hulkling, who thought he was a normal human boy until a series of events reveal that he is half-Skrull, half-Kree (that’s two alien races for those who don’t read Marvel) and he has shapechanging powers (from his Skrull ancestry) and superstrength (from his Kree ancestry). That’s the sort of “bom bom baa!!” dramatic reveal you’d expect to find in a soap opera. “David is not your father … your father is David’s evil twin! Bom bom baa!!”
When we were working on the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, Rob Heinso and I talked a lot about the various weird quasi-racial feats we were working on for the book (like the one that says you’re descended from genies and have access to some genie magic, or you’re descended from yuan-ti and have goofy powers, etc.). The trick was that if you didn’t take that feat at level 1, it’s hard to justify taking it at level 3 or 6 as you’d “suddenly develop” this weird heritage. Except that we have this sort of thing all the time in soap operas, and various fantasy stories have expanded it to include other weird parenting. So we were thinking we’d have a small section about having a “soap opera reveal” for your character, as in “Castanamir, I have to tell you about our family’s secret … your great-grandfather was the efreet Zamhalam, and his fiery blood runs in your veins!” We eventually abandoned the idea and went with the (not very good game design) first-level-only restriction on a lot of those feats, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t use that idea or something like it. Perhaps the stress of your last battle activated some latent ability you didn’t know you had, or your body started kicking out new hormones in a puberty-like fashion from long-suppressed genes?
I think it would be cool for a story-oriented campaign to utilize this sort of thing. Even if a player has an extensive character history, it leaves room for the DM to meddle with it in some way, especially if the player is into roleplaying and is willing to “roll with the punches” and take advantage of the roleplaying drama that such a reveal entails.