After the second session of our superhero roleplaying campaign, my daughter decided to write something about her character’s background. That old-school TSR-developed game system really helps fire up the imagination.
Janey Nevitt turned into an animal for the first time when she was six years old. She had been walking hand-in-hand with her father in Needle Point Market, the largest marketplace in all of Seatropolis when she saw a tank full of live lobsters. Though it was still hard for her to tell what non-mammals were thinking, just the concept of communicating with animals was natural for her, so it didn’t take too much work to reach out to them.
Help me! A lobster said to the little girl as her family walked past.
Janey, ever the soft-hearted person towards animals, did feel for the little creature, but she had no choice but to deny his request. I’m sorry, little guy, she thought to him. I can’t.
What if you were stuck here in this case, the lobster reasoned to her, pinchers tapping against the glass, beady eyes boring into her. Janey was taken by surprise. She had never known lobsters to be good reasoners.
What if I were a lobster? She wondered. Being only six, the thought had, of course, never crossed her mind.
It was as instant as the blink of an eye. One second, a little girl walked beside her family. The next, her father held not his daughter’s hand, but a lobster. Naturally, he screamed.
Janey the baby lobster gazed up at her father and tried to scream back, not quite sure what was happening. She could see her own pinchers, she was aware that she was small, and most of all, she was scared.
“Hey!” One of the seafood merchants called to her family. His eyes fell on Janey, and she tried to scramble out of his sight, almost causing her dad to drop her. “Did you pay for that lobster, sir?”
Turn back! Janey thought to herself. I want to be a human! A HUMAN! But her thoughts were too frantic to work. She could feel her body react to her message, but she could also feel her message die before it could be fully registered. She began to do a lobster version of hyperventilation.
“Where’s Janey?” Janey’s older sister, Mallory asked innocently.
Their father nodded frantically to the man before running away with Lobster Janey in his arms, his wife and daughter following in hurried confusion. Her father found an empty alcove, and there, he held Janey level to his face.
“Janey?!” He asked, baffled. “Please tell me this is actually you. Please tell me I’m not crazy and just talking to a lobster.”
Turn BACK! Janey told herself. Once again, she felt something register inside her brain, her body answering a call. That’s it, she told it. Turn back!
In another blink, just as Mallory and Janey’s mom ran towards them, Janey was human again, held up under the arms by her father.
For a few seconds, nobody said anything. They all just blinked at Janey, and Janey blinked at her father. All four of them knew about superpowers. All of them knew that sometimes, somehow, a special few were gifted with superhuman abilities. And her parents had pondered the fact that one of their children might grow up to have them, but the chances were so slim…
Janey, though she had always been able to understand animals’ thoughts and they her own, had never known that it was considered a superpower. It was simply a fact of life. In fact, she had never talked about it to her family before. She thought it something everyone could do! But now she knew there was definitely something different about her.
“Daddy, can you put me down?” She finally asked in her forever-nervous voice.
“My God, Margaret,” her dad said to her mother as he set his daughter on the ground. Janey immediately took her father’s hand again, not sure how to feel, what to make out of what she had just done. “We’re raising a superhuman.”
Janey eventually realized that communication with animals was not a normal human trait. And she knew that turning into animals was even less normal. Any other kid might’ve wanted to tell others immediately. But Janey didn’t even need her parents’ persuasion to keep her powers a secret. Her awkward and nervous disposition wouldn’t allow her to do otherwise.
Now, Janey was eighteen, all her powers secret to all except her family. Her sister had just graduated college, Janey following in her footsteps and attending Peninsula College in Seatropolis. It was her third week, and she hadn’t yet gained a single friend, living in a dorm with a girl who shared Janey’s awkward nature so much that the two of them still didn’t know how to conduct a normal conversation between each other.
And worst of all, she still didn’t have enough money for a moped, so she had to settle for walking everywhere. She walked to Mario Boys Pizzaria for her shift every day and borrowed a coworkers car for delivery purposes. She walked to all her classes. Janey wasn’t unfit in any sense of the word, but all that walking would make anyone tired, and Janey was a college student with a heavy class load that kept her up at night. Plus, her favorite vegetarian sandwich shop (not that there was even another one to choose from) didn’t do delivery. And she hadn’t had enough time to walk down there before gym class that day, so she was currently running on nothing but water and a cheap energy drink from a vending machine.
Janey shuffled over to the start line when her name was called, sighing. Her legs were sore, and her stomach kept grumbling. Plus, she was racing against Penelope Go, who was both the fastest and prettiest girl in the whole school. Janey wished she could deny the fact that she had watched the sociable Penelope tie her long hair up before bouncing over to the start line.
The whistle blew, and Janey, Penelope, and four other Peninsula freshmen leapt into action. Penelope bounded into the lead, her friends cheering for her from the sidelines. Janey tried not to audibly pant as her exhaustion got the better of her. She hadn’t even rounded the first corner of the track and she was already out of breath…
Come on, she told herself. Speed up.
It was those last two words which were her mistake. She did speed up, her strides growing longer, but she also felt a familiar connection inside of her. A picture flashed briefly in her mind of a bounding cheetah.
She gasped. No, no no! She had transformed in public on accident many times, but she had been getting better at controlling her powers over the years. But when she was exhausted, hungry, or low on sleep (all of which she currently was), her powers sometimes acted of their own accord in their wish to keep Janey going.
In Janey’s panic, the transformation halted within her, but it was a messy stop. In her frantic state, she had misjudged the turn of the track, and was now barreling off into the grass, towards a cluster of trees at the edge of the school grounds.
She did not turn into a cheetah as she stumbled off the track and began to fall flat on her face.
She did, however, turn into a cat.
A cute, little orange house cat.
She slid into the trees’ foliage, not quite sure if she had transformed before or after entering her inadvertent hiding place. On all fours, she scrambled, her mind still fuzzy and shocked and full of conflicting demands.
“Is she okay?” She heard a faint voice ask.
“I’ll go check on her!” A girl answered. A girl with a sweet voice that Janey recognized, and an even sweeter face.
It would be nothing short of embarrassing if Penelope were to see Janey transform. What would she think of her?
She can’t see me like this, Cat Janey thought. She can’t see me. And so Cat Janey transformed into Mouse Janey, but not before Penelope appeared, now hidden behind the trees with Janey.
She gasped, a hand flying to her mouth.
Janey had no other choice. She couldn’t risk Penelope telling her friends about her powers. Penelope was friends with practically everybody. Janey was already the weird animal girl. Now she would be the weird Animal Girl.
Janey morphed back into a human, staggering backwards. Penny looked like she wanted to scream, but settled for a gasp.
“Please!” Janey hissed, desperation clear in her voice. “Don’t tell anyone I have powers, I– I don’t know what will happen. No one else here has them, I–”
“Don’t worry,” Penelope whispered. “I don’t think anyone saw you transform into a cat. You were through the trees already. I’m the only one who’s seen anything, Janey. Everyone else is just worried that you got hurt.”
Janey was still unbearably embarrassed at her slip-up, still worried her powers would become public knowledge, but everything in her mind was pushed away in a single moment in favor of a much more savorable revelation: “y-you know my name?”
“Of course,” Penelope said with a smile. She took a step forward, laying a delicate hand on Janey’s shoulder to reassure her. “We have classes together, and my brother works at that sandwich shop you go to every day. He knows you by name.”
Janey blushed. “I don’t go there every day.”
Penelope laughed. “My bad, then.” She then grew more serious. “Listen, I wouldn’t tell anyone. You’re not the only one with special powers at school.”
Janey’s eyes grew wide, excitement burning through her embarrassment. “Really?” She could meet other people with superpowers… she could befriend them.
Penelope nodded. “Stay still,” she said. Janey barely had time to register her words before Penelope disappeared. One moment she was there, the next she was gone. Janey looked down, thinking for a moment that Penelope could transform into things too, and realized that she couldn’t see her own feet. Janey had disappeared too. Then Penelope reappeared, shimmering faintly as she phazed back into sight.
“You can turn invisible,” Janey marvelled. She knew she shouldn’t have been so baffled, since she had powers of her own, but seeing someone else use their own was an experience she had never had before. “And you can turn other people invisible.”
Penelope smiled proudly. “Only when I’m in contact with them. I can also teleport to places in my sight, or places that I know really well. That’s how I get around a lot, even though I have a car.”
“You use your powers in public… on purpose?”
“I would ask if you don’t do the same, but we wouldn’t be here if you didn’t.” Penelope smiled again. “I know I shouldn’t use them, but… when you can turn invisible and teleport at the same time, it’s really easy to get where you want to go. I mostly use my car so people don’t get suspicious.”
“I can talk to animals,” Janey blurted before she could stop herself. “I can hear what they’re thinking, and they can hear my thoughts.”
“That’s so cool!”
“You really think so?”
“Of course! Can you do anything else?”
“Sometimes I can tell where things are, even if they’re somewhere I’ve never seen before.”
“Your powers are amazing. Teleportation and invisibility are fun, but other than that… all I can do is run really fast.”
Of course! Janey chastised herself. After three weeks of gym classes, Janey had failed to realize that one of her classmates was using her power every time she ran. She must have been using it in moderation, of course, so that she wouldn’t seem too fast… all this time, Janey had spent her nights fretting that she would never meet another person with superpowers, that she would always be alone in that respect, all while failing to realize that a person just like that was right in front of her eyes.
Janey smiled. And for the first time since starting college, she didn’t look nervous.
Janey moved out of her campus dorm the next month to go live with Penelope and her friend, Rodrigo Rodriguez in the Fallstaff apartment complex a few blocks away from the Peninsula campus. Rodrigo was an energetic, skinny, olive-skinned college junior who for whatever reason opted to sleep on the couch instead of his given bedroom, so Janey took it instead. At some point, she started calling Penelope “Penny”. Janey finally saved enough money for a moped.
Even Rodrigo didn’t know about his roommates’ superpowers. But Penny and Janey started using their powers around each other, grateful to not be alone in possessing them anymore. And eventually, the two girls started dating, their relationship falling into a happy cadence that was at its core an extension of their friendship.
Rodrigo and Penny had amps, a microphone, and a bass set up in the corner of their small living room. When Janey was okay with it, they would sometimes practice. Janey mostly liked to sit on the kitchen counter and watch Penny sing, her dark eyes lighting up as soon as she began, her sweet voice morphing into something more powerful.
“You know,” Janey said nervously after her friends had finished practicing one day, “I used to play the electric guitar. I quit when I moved into the dorms on campus, because there was nowhere to practice. But… my guitar is still at my family’s house, and, well–”
“You want to join us?” Penny asked.
Janey nodded nervously.
“Cool,” Rodrigo said, setting his bass down and checking his TRUtime, the watch made by the biggest technology company in all of Seatropolis. “I have a class now. But we should start a band.”
The door closed behind him, leaving Janey and Penny in silence.
“Let’s do it,” Penny said with a smile. “We’ll have to come up with a cool name though.”
“And a genre,” Janey added, though Penny and Rodrigo already had a very distinct style going for them. One that Janey would be happy to add to.
“We can play at metal nights at the Haystack.”
Janey grinned. “Maybe we can get so popular we can open for Gothmog.” Gothmog was the most popular local metal band in all of Seatropolis, and Janey had been to many a metal night at the Haystack just to watch them play. Though she had always been too nervous to enter the Balrog’s Lair, which was the band’s name for their mosh pit. If Janey ever got the opportunity to open for the death metal band, she might just die of happiness.
Ever the optimist, Penny rushed forward to give Janey a high five. “We can make it! Together.”
“Yeah,” Janey said. And once again, her forever-nervous features softened into something that could only be described as happiness. “Together.”
We’re using the classic Marvel Super Hero Roleplaying rules that were published back in 1986. They’re long out of print, but if you want to play this game, the good folks at Classic Marvel Forever have gathered everything you’ll need.