Friday, January 22, 2010

Kindred (Super) Spirits

And this is one of the reasons I enjoy reading other peoples' blogs...they hip me to even MORE blogs to follow!

Over at Paladin's Citadel, I followed a little link to the Earth Alpha blog. Originally, it appears to have been started up to discuss Castles & Crusades, but over time it has morphed into one blogger's exploration of the superhero RPG and an attempt to recapture the imagination and creative energy of yesteryear ( I can relate!).

O how I share this poor young soul's pain and suffering! Why O Why is there not a truly wonderful superhero RPG that does everything one requires? That provides randomness along with coherence; that is non-clunky/fiddly while still having the minutia required to keep it from being simplistic?
Although I've never come right and said it in this blog, I am a huge collector of superhero RPGs, and the reason is this Quixotic search for the perfect supers game. Yes, yes I have been very "anti-hero" when it comes to some RPGs...but superheroes are by definition, um, superheroes. One is supposed to create and play a superhero in a superhero game.

As they say in The Holy Bible: there's a time, a place, a season for everything (okay, yeah, I'm paraphrasing, but you get the drift).

Anyway let me list some of the superhero games I've owned and played over the years (I say "some" because there's no way I can remember all of 'em):

Heroes Unlimited (2nd Edition and Revised)
Aberrant (as well as Adventure! and Trinity)
Godlike (and boy would I like Wild Talents!)
Marvel Superheroes
Advanced Marvel Superheroes
Guardians of Order (??...I believe this is the name, have to check)
With Great Power...
DC Heroes

These are in no particular order...and certainly other games I've owned can easily fall into the "superheroic" category: Big Eyes Small Mouth, all the 2nd Edition World of Darkness books, Rifts and TMNT, Amber, etc., etc..

The problem is, they all suck.

Does that sound harsh? Yeah, I guess it does and I'm being curmudgeonly again. But they all fail to satisfy my itch to role-play superheroes which kind of defeats the point of being designed in the first place.

Marvel comes pretty darn close, but requires too much to play (specifically boards and pieces and preferably a pre-made adventure module that lists karma awards/penalties for each scene). Heroes Unlimited is probably my (*shudder*) favorite game for its combination of randomness and excellent classes but needs so much WORK, house rules wise that it's a true pain in the ass. Guardians screws itself (though I love skills like "flourish"), Capes has the truly awesome click-n-lock character generation system (and I like the bidding system, but in practice it turns out to be more of a collaborative story-telling system rather an objective RPG), and Sketch! is too simplistic and turns off people that don't like to draw. Aberrant is as close to Champions as I ever want to get, but the one-sidedness of the characters (no Iron Man characters here) and it's over-long chargen system hampers it...I want to blow people up, and that means needing a quicker way to roll up new characters. This goes for ANY system that has point-buys or skill selection steps (which is one of the reasons I've never bothered to invest in Mutants & Masterminds).

Scaling is a problem with most, especially DC (which is overly complicated to my logarithmacally-challenged brain anyway) and Marvel. And Superworld is just a bit less than complete for my taste.

ANYhoo...the point of this post is I feel Earth Alpha's pain...I really do. I was never a big comic collector as a kid but I was a huge comic reader...many summers in Montana I was spending my allowance to pick up comic books down at the old Circle K, just for the pleasure of reading some thrilling tales and lingering my eyes over the excellent art work. The on-going story-line wasn't important to me (as an adult it is moreso, when I pick up the occasional graphic novel like The Watchmen or the first two Ultimates trade paperbacks). But I wanted a chance to BE a superhero like Green Arrow or Ghost Rider or the Silver Surfer or even (lately) Captain America...kicking ass in a world of black & white bad guys and using my super cool powers for good.

[Daredevil was also a favorite]

I've read/heard that the thing that saved and promoted comic books through the lean years were there attention to story and their gripping characters/human dramas. As a kid, these things never mattered much. I didn't care that Yellow Jacket and Wasp got divorced or that Tony Stark was battling me these were side-plots that DETRACTED from MY reason for reading comics. Sure, I always hoped that Forge and Storm would get married (ah, the X-Men) but I was more intrigued by the sacrifices that had to me made (by both) in the service of the plot to stop the Adversary and "Save the World." These things made a compelling adventure story more poignant (Daredevil was great at this kind of thing) whereas other sub-plots showing the "human side" of superheroes (Peter Parker's BS drama with Flash Thompson and all that jazz) were less interesting to me.

So what, then, would I like to see in a superhero RPG? Unfortunately, it appears superhero RPG designers tend to focus on only one aspect or another in their games: worrying about the "drama" of the human stuck with super powers (and responsibilities, super or not) OR worrying about making a "butt-kicking"superhero combat game and hoping that SOMEhow, "story happens." Somehow a game needs to be devised that creates human drama within the adventure, as part of the rules design, while still allowing the players to live out the superhero fantasy (sorry Capes, WGR). I haven't yet seen it, though.

So, Earth Alpha, having said all THAT, I will be following his blog to see if he can somehow shape his many different RPGs into one coherent masterpiece of a game. I am pulling for him (and I'm not brave enough to try it myself!). Plus, I just like reading about different folks' superhero campaigns. I'm weird like that.
; )


  1. I ran across Earth Alpha the same way and enjoy reading it.

  2. Two of my favourites were the card-based Marvel Superheroes from TSR, and Golden Heroes from Games Workshop. The former got closest to capturing that elusive superheroic feel.

  3. Truth & Justice has been the most successful supers game for me. In large part because you can tailor the Qualities to be about whatever you want your game to be about: make sure everyone has a Relationship Quality if you want that Mary Jane-Aunt May thing going; make them Mental issues if you want that psychological kind of game.

    That said, I always had a great deal of fun with V&V back in the day, but I think I wouldn't now.