Masks: A New Generation and the Possibilities of Trans Narratives

If you read my last article (come on, check it out, I’m pretty proud) you know that Powered By The Apocalypse has a queer fandom. What’s more, you likely know that when it comes to RPGs, none appeal to me more than Masks: A New Generation. It utilizes a picture perfect narrative system while weaving it together with the trials and tribulations of being a fledgling superhero who also happens to struggle with the whole teenager thing. I frigging’ love it!  It’s my favorite RPG system.

Hey, you don’t gotta take my word for it. This site has quite a few cool articles on the system I’d seriously recommend giving a read. Now, what I’m here for today is to tackle the systems of Masks in-depth from a perspective inspired by the Masks actual play podcast, Unlabelled. Unlabelled is a Masks podcast set in the Phoenix Academy playset (think Sky-High or My Hero Academia). While I had been dying for a podcast of that playset for months, what truly drew my attention hook, line, and sinker was the fact that the entire cast, both in and out of the game, was comprised of trans women. I love to see myself in my favorite hobby, and I adore to see myself in my favorite game.

During the character creation segment of the podcast, one of the players jokingly referred to the Transformed playbook as the “TRANS-formed”. A lot of trans folx have already noticed this with the archetype, and I briefly touched upon it in my last article, but the Transformed hits on many of the same beats of the trans experience.

Being changed and coming to terms with that.

Discrimination for standing out cos you’re not the same as everyone else.

People not understanding how you feel.

But that got me thinking. If the Transformed, an archetype based on youthful experience, could be so easily a metaphor for a trans narrative, why not all the playbooks? And I thought about it. And I thought. And I thought.

And this article is what came of it. So sit back, grab a drink and let’s dive into: Masks: A Trans Generation.

The Beacon

The Beacon: An archetype based on the likes of Kate Bishop and Stephanie Brown. Their place in the team is secured around the idea that they’re the least powerful and experienced, coping with the world trying to tell them they’re not cut out for the super heroic life.

Many a trans person have been told they don’t belong. That none of us are meant for the group that we share with cis people. It’s a horrible lie, but it is ingrained in your mind like a bug crawling in.

Not allowed here. Can’t do that. Won’t be accepted there.

A large part of the Beacon’s character is being told they’re not suited to be a hero. That they’re just a fool pursuing a dream that will never come to fruition. Just a dumb kid. Sadly, this is a reality for quite a few trans youth. We were told we’ll never be who we truly are. Much like how the Beacon’s lack of powers or formal training in superheroics is used to browbeat them down from pursuing what they want, trans people are dealt this in turn by society’s ideas of what gender is.

But another large part of the Beacon is about proving the naysayers wrong. Through sheer force of grit and determination, taking destiny with your own two hands and saying “I CAN BE ME!” 

Think of the drives that the Beacon has built into them. How living their superhero life is such an exciting experience alongside being challenging. While being trans often has arduous times, it’s also freeing and joyous. The Beacon lives their life in the truest and most enriching way, no matter what it takes.

The Beacon is about the world telling you you’re not strong or good enough for the life you want. And you showing them how far out they were to say that.

The Bull

The Bull:  A Wolverine/X-23-esque playbook which highlights the “bruiser with a heart of gold” archetype.

“You’re big, strong and tough too. You know what fighting really is. Sure, you got a soft side too…”

The opening few sentences of the Bull’s flavour text helps elucidate quite a bit. Many trans folx have been through the ringer of life. We’ve seen the worst of humanity and what it can offer. It’s embittered many of us. Made us harder and even more cynical at times. It’s hard not to when the world treats you like you don’t matter.

The Bull is naturally a more hardened and jaded kind of the Masks playbook. Much like how I described, they’ve been through a lot in this world and have endured pain and hardship. Despite the stereotype of “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” , in reality it often just makes you more angry. And the Bull tends to have that in oodles.

But, you can also see the softness of the world more clearly. You know true kindness when you see it. How hard the world can be but also how it’s so often beautiful. And how you don’t want anyone who’s your trans sibling going through the same things you did.

The Bull could form the “Elder Tran” figure that can appear in many trans friend groups. The one who’s wise to what this world can dish out, and wants to make sure their team doesn’t have to go through the same things. The protector of the more naive and innocent.

Now, it’s also possible to play them as “The world hurt me and I want to hurt it back!” style, but when you take the Love and Rival mechanic into equation, chances are you will fall down the hero path soon enough.

And what’s more heroic than being yourself in a hard world that doesn’t want you to be?

The Protege

The Protege: This is the Robin-playbooks. The Protege is defined by a relationship with a mentor superhero.

Mentorship and guiding the younger generation of trans people was briefly touched upon in the previous part. But now, we’re gonna go in for the full bullpen. Here we emphasize a guide rather than protector.

In contrast to how the Legacy will be explored later in this article, The Protege could suit well with the idea that their mentor is also a trans person. One who’s been dealing with the life for as long as they have been a hero and now wish to help the Protege not make the same mistakes they did. Both in discovering their identity and in hero-hood.

However, an intrinsic part of the Protege is that they and the mentor do not necessarily see eye-to-eye. This could be indicative of the relationship that can commonly occur between the current and past generation of trans folx. How beliefs and lines of thought changed as we, as a community, became more aware of the world and the ever evolving complexity of gender. Think of how the Protege, despite their similarities at times, differ in their view of the trans experience.

Remember: Just because two people are trans doesn’t mean we necessarily agree on every single thing. 

The Transformed

The Transformed: A Beast or The Thing style playbook. Someone who has been physically changed and altered by their powers.

We discussed this briefly earlier. How the Transformed often reflects the “othering” of being trans. But how about we tackle it from a different perspective (this’ll come up at the end, so remember that).

Not everyone wishes to fit in. We may not like how the world treats us for being different, but we’re not going to conform to it. I’m a trans autistic woman who doesn’t pass and I’d never change a thing about me.

The idea of being your own unique self as a trans person is a beautiful thing. The idea that there’s no one in this world quite like you. Being different can be its own reward. And when it comes to being different, there’s no one who quite fits into that like the Transformed.

Where one person might see your more broad facial structure as “Masculine”, you could see it as your own brand of feminine. And where a fellow teen might see the Transformed’s claws as “scary”, the Transformed could potentially see them as a rare beauty. While the Transformed may not have chosen to be this way, that need not mean they hate it.

Not everyone wants to fit in. And that can lead to some spectacular stories as the Transformed. And as a trans person.

The Doomed

The Doomed: Someone whose power is slowly beginning to kill them. 

We’re not going to do this playbook. While there are many avenues for how to explore a trans perspective from the narrative of the Doomed, they are frankly too grim.

While I wouldn’t hold it against someone trying to make a trans story from the Doomed’s placement, as it could be cathartic, I cannot. So often trans people are only seen when we are suffering and dying. And I do not want to contribute to that with this article. 

I want to show the beauty of our lives. And yes, there is sometimes sadness in that. But in the end, this article is about trans lives. And all that entails.

The Janus

The Janus: A playbook that can easily fit many of the Spider-family. They are someone who takes care to have a very protected and secured secret identity.

Duality. It’s all about duality with the Janus. They live two lives. One is a life where they pick up groceries for their family, study for school, and take care of their younger siblings. The other side is all about jumping from rooftop to rooftop, punching laughing and evil villains right in their face, and begging your teammates to cover for you when that “mundane” side of life means you can’t stop the giant robot from destroying downtown.

The Mundane Vs The Super. The Ordinary Vs The Fantastical. Being In The Closest Vs Being Out Of It. When I first came out of the closet, it felt like being superhuman. I felt feelings more strongly than ever after realizing. I was more confident with people who knew. I actually enjoyed buying clothes for the first time (believe me, it’s a big deal)!

But, that was with people who knew. Others who I had to keep it a secret from, it almost felt like putting a blanket over a fire. Trying to keep it from going out of control and hurting me. 

The narrative of the Janus mirrors the narrative of a trans person who’s still partially closeted quite a bit. Being forced to shield part of your life from those close to you. Constantly on the lookout for your cover being blown. Having a special group who gives you comfort and security.

The Janus is based around duality. And as someone who was closeted for so long, I can relate.

The Outsider

The Outsider: A playbook inspired by Ms Martian and Starfire. This character comes from a far and distant place, now a visitor in the land most of the PC’s call home.

It’s in the name, isn’t it? The Outsider. They come from a place that’s different. Be it an alternate dimension, an alien planet, or a hidden-away kingdom, the Outsider is not from around here. And the culture shock hits hard.

Many places in the world, both presently and throughout history, have viewed trans identity differently. Some saw it as common. Some as negative. Some as sacred. Use that. The Outsider’s world may have an entirely different view of gender from the city your game takes place in. They may not even be aware of the concept of gender, only discovering what the idea of it means once they arrive.

The Outsider is all about differences in culture. Of being a stranger in a new land. Bring your own ideals of gender and what it means with you. And watch it interact with those around you. At the very least, it’ll lead to some interesting conversations in your team.

The Legacy

The Legacy: A superheroic lineage passed down through a line. And this playbook is the most recent one to pick it up.

You’re walking in the footsteps of giants. A long lineage spirals out behind the Legacy, of heroes and elders all taking up the mantle of heroism that your character seeks to uphold. And you’re often expected to bear the title in the exact same way.

The Legacy is often about the expectations your parents hold of you. To live the life that they did. To follow them in their same path. The idea of a Legacy who is different, who seeks to change what the meaning of their heroic title means, is quite trans.

Think of how your elders would feel about you being the first in your line to change what it means to be your legacy. If your Legacy was all of one gender, how does a trans Legacy fit into such a line? How do they feel about being the one to change it? How does the idea of having the even heavier crown bearing down its weight upon you make your character go about living their life as the next in line?

Variety is the spice of life. But change is oftentimes very hard. But so often the best things in life are.

The Nova

The Nova: In the image of Jean Grey during her Phoenix days, The Nova playbook is based around possessing immeasurable power, but not knowing how to fully control it.

The Nova is about being a font of power. Of being able to mix and reshape reality to your own will and ability. But you have to learn how to control that power and not let it go straight to your head. Otherwise, you may end up hurting those around you.

The Nova speaks most to me as the idea of trans privilege. How certain trans people – such as white, able, neurotypical, and other assorted majority identities – have an easier time than our more marginalized siblings. Intersectionality is an important part of the trans identity. But sadly, not every trans person learns that right away.

The Nova may believe that they have all the answers to trans issues. That they are the “Avatar of the trans community”. They may even have good intentions. But the fact is, no one trans person can define a community. It’s a multifaceted concept and community. It requires far more than just one person to make progress for it because it is just that. A community.

The Nova will have to learn that, despite all their power and strength, they cannot speak and be everything for everyone within the community. Power can be useful. But unchecked power always corrupts.

The Delinquent

The Delinquent: The Quentin Quire of playbooks. The Delinquent is about sticking it to the man and spitting in the eyes of rules.

Rebellion and the trans experience often go hand in hand. As we’ve discussed already, when you live in a world that many a time refuses to let you be you, fighting against it can be necessary. Some people need to get the bat of rebellion before they listen.

The Delinquent is a trans person that may not follow the conventional rules of being trans. They may not care for passing or being polite. And nor should they. Each trans person is their own human at the end of the day and, as explained in the Nova’s entry, should not be held as a testament to the community.

Unfortunately, the wider world often doesn’t see it that way. Some people see one rude trans person and assume the entire community is that way. It’s a harsh reality of incorrect stereotyping. The Delinquent may clash with fellow trans superheroes who, in a misguided attempt, claim the Delinquent is damaging their image.

The Delinquent is about not being what the world tells you to be and giving those who try to tell you what you are the middle finger. But so often, you and your team are forced to deal with the consequences of those actions. No matter how unjust they are.

At the end of the day, this article is not a gospel for how to play your trans Masks character. A trans person can be anything and everything all between. Some trans people see their identity as a defining aspect. Some see it as simply a part of them that rarely bares mentioning. Both are equally valid.

To all trans Masks players out there, don’t let anyone tell you you’re playing your trans character the “wrong way”. Your experience is just as equal to anyone else’s. Unless you are a truscum or a racist, in which case rethink some things.

If you enjoyed this article, I may return to the subject to potentially cover this topic with regards to the expansion playbooks.

Thank you to Mikey Zee, The Critical Bits Discord and all of the Masks community for their feedback on their article.

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