In May 2016, Blizzard launched Overwatch, a game where players clash with colorful heroes on battlefields around the globe in the near future. Last time on the Campaign Trail, I looked at the Chrono Rogue, inspired by the video game Overwatch. This week, I’m returning to my campaign setting series, looking at the world of the video game Overwatch. The developers of Overwatch have provided details of the world and its characters with bios, webcomics, tweets, blog posts, animated shorts and more, but they haven’t provided all the details. All of this provides an excellent base for a setting that let’s the gamemaster and players extend with their own details.
What is Overwatch?
In Overwatch, you control one of several heroes in competitive 6-person team shooting matches. The game requires players to battle over objectives, take down the other team, and achieve victory. Like many tabletop RPGs, roles are specialized, so there is a heavy emphasis on teamwork. This video does an excellent job providing an overview for the gameplay of Overwatch.
The World of Overwatch
Unlike many futuristic distopic settings in the future, Overwatch’s earth is “bright and aspirational”, taking place after a golden age of prosperity and technological progress. Overwatch takes place 60 years in the future of a fictionalized Earth and 30 years after the “Omnic Crisis”. The Omnic Crisis began when the “omnics” (human developed robots with artificial intelligence) started building hostile robots which turned against humanity. The United Nations (UN) quickly formed an international task force to combat this threat and restore order, called Overwatch.
Overwatch successfully subdued the robotic uprising, but a rift developed between two founding members, Gabriel Reyes and Jack Morrison. For a time they settled with Morrison leading Overwatch and Reyes running convert operations in a group called Blackwatch. For decades Overwatch maintained peace, but several allegations of wrongdoing and failures by the organization led to public outcry, in-fighting between its members, and a UN investigation. The in-fighting climaxed with an explosion that destroyed Overwatch’s headquarters and the presumed deaths of Morrison and Reyes. Overwatch was disbanded with the passing of the Petras Act by the UN.
The game of Overwatch is set around 5 years after the Petras Act in a world without Overwatch. This world needs heroes to stop corporations from taking over, break up fighting and terrorism around the globe, and to stop a second Omnic Crisis. The game begins with former members of Overwatch deciding to ignore the Petras Act, recruiting new and old friends to reestablish Overwatch as illegal vigilantes.
Exploring the World of Overwatch
Looking to learn more about the lore behind the game? The backstory to Overwatch is described through animated shorts and other information distributed by Blizzard in promoting the game.
- Animated Shorts
Check out the cinematic trailer and animated shorts featuring many of the characters and world of Overwatch
- Digital Comic Shorts
A series of free digital comics featuring characters McCree, Junk Rat, Roadhog, Symmetra, Reinhardt, Pharah, Ana, Soldier 76 and Torbjorn
The Overwatch news section is full of your typical release notes and marketing… but it also has some articles written as news articles from the future world of Overwatch
- Overwatch Graphic Novel – First Strike (Late 2016/Early 2017)
First Strike explores the early days of Overwatch, providing origin details of some of its founding members like Soldier: 76, Torbjörn, Reaper, and Reinhardt.
Tracer is an offensive character who zips around the battlefield.
Player Character Options
CLASSES & BACKGROUNDS
The cast of Overwatch is diverse and there is a place for any type of hero including gunslinging cowboys, android ninjas, gorilla scientists and time traveling pilots.
- Make sure classes fit your world’s technology level. Even if you have guns and technical weapons, they could be more trouble than they are worth with jamming and lack of ammo or really just another type of magic. The important thing is to make sure no class is bringing a knife to a laser gun fight.
- Think about how you want to handle arcane and divine magic, if at all. With some creative thinking and re-skinning any class can fit well in any time, but you might want to look at substitutions such as Technologists/Hackers or reflavoring existing classes such as a cleric to a be a medic.
- Help your players understand the setting they are going to be playing in. Someone who likes to play a ranger created for a woodland forest is going to have a tough time defending the cities of a near future earth, but with some thought can be an excellent hero of the future.
- We see modified examples of many classic fantasy RPG class builds in Overwatch such as Mercy the life cleric, Winston the raging barbarian, Hanzo the archer and Genji the ninja, but generally most heroes in a world like this are going to use some form of modern, non magical weapons.
- Rules such as D20 Modern and Shadowrun can provide lots of ideas for building heroes and running your game.
- You might want to look at adding in some new backgrounds, archetypes and skills that will help classes fit the setting too. Check out the example Overwatch inspired Chrono Rogue archetype for D&D 5e.
- RPGs that don’t depend on structured classes, such as FATE, provide the freedom to create unique characters for your near future Earth set game… such as matching the features for a specific Overwatch character.
Some of the heroes of Overwatch
The important thing to consider for your Overwatch inspired setting, is which races fit the world you want to tell stories in with your players. Here are some ideas from Overwatch and my own brain.
- Omnic. Not all the robots want to murder humans, but plenty of humans want to murder . Pathfinder’s Gearforged or D&D’s Warforged provide a good base to start from.
- Human. Your typical default race works for this setting and make up the majority of the Earth’s population. Create subraces or feats to handle genetic modifications.
- Genetically Enhanced Gorilla. These genetically enhanced gorillas, lived at the Horizon Lunar Colony. But the gorillas led an uprising, killed the mission scientists, and claimed the colony for their own. Not all of them are bad though, such as the character Winston who escaped in a rocket and joined Overwatch.
- Android. In the future, many people are going to use technology to enhance their body. Androids go beyond this and use cyberization to become more machine than human such as the character Genji.
- Dwarves. While Overwatch does not have any demi-humans, the character Torbjorn couldn’t look more like a dwarf.
- Other Races. With all the technology that exists in the world of Overwatch, there are plenty of reasons to have humans quickly “evolve” into exotic races like shadar-kai or other typically fantasy races. If there isn’t enough going on in the world, aliens arriving can provide plenty of new races such as benevolent alien elves or conquering alien half-orcs. If you really want magic and fantasy races, you can go the Shadowrun route, introducing fantasy magic and races to our world.
Overwatch was disbanded thirty years after its formation, and in the five years since, the world has become a darker place full of enemies to battle. If your group has killed its share of kobolds and dragons, an Overwatch inspired setting could change things up by having your players battle enemies that are typical fought by action and super heros.
- Corporations. Many corporations mercilessly try to gain as much profit as they can, with governments powerless to stop them. Vigilantes operating on their own are not powerless.
- Terrorists. Talon and other terrorist organizations are a constant threat around the globe. The former members of Overwatch are well equipped for this threat and experienced in defeating terrorist cells.
- Criminals. Super criminals are committing crimes around the world and only your heroes can stop them. Challenge your players with with heists, kidnappings and other crimes that take a mix of planning and action to thwart.
- Genetically Enhanced Gorillas. Let’s hope the gorillas stay in their moon base and don’t do anything like plot to destroy all human life on Earth.
- Omnics. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robots, what could go wrong? Most omnics are peaceful, but a small minority of them would like nothing more than to finish what they started 30 years ago.
- Natural Disasters. Your heroes can help save civilians and stop the destruction of storms, earthquakes, volcanos and more. Bonus points for GM who puts an evil villain behind the looming disaster.
- Aliens. Like the Omnic Crisis, perhaps your world had humanity defeat an alien threat like in the movie Independence Day (1996). 30 years later they are back and heroes are needed.
- Monsters. Fantasy RPGs are full of awesome monsters, and there’s no reason you can’t throw them at your heroes in this setting. For something different than the old monster fight in a dungeon, try unleashing a Kraken, Tarrasque, Roc or Purple Worm on one of Earth’s big cities.
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