Monday, June 7, 2010

My Supers Collection

This week is shaping up to be “Superhero Week” at the ol’ B/X Blackrazor (don’t worry…the Companion stuff for B/X D&D is still getting worked on, too…that’s just “behind the scenes”), and I was considering doing a profile on all the various superhero RPGs I possess…the pros and cons of each so to speak.

To what end? Well to getting it set pretty firmly in my mind what I like and don’t like in hopes that I can make some kind of mish-mash superhero stew that will taste fantastic.

Here’s the list of superhero RPGs I’ve got in my inventory:

- Aberrant, Adventure!, and Trinity
- Big Eyes, Small Mouth (anime superheroes)
- Capes
- Champions
- City of Heroes(!!) RPG (Quickstart only)
- Feng Shui
- Godlike
- Guardians
- Heroes Unlimited, TMNT
- Marvel Superheroes RPG (basic and advanced, pre-1984)
- Mutants & Masterminds
- Sketch!
- Superworld (a download…somewhere)
- Villains & Vigilantes
- With Great Power…

Am I missing anything? I almost purchased Cartoon Action Hour when I saw it at the game shop for $12, but I like my supers a bit more gritty than the TV Justice League. Of course, Gary’s has also had Blood of Heroes in its bargain bin ($1.00) for about 6 months now and I still haven’t felt the need to waste a buck…I was never a huge fan of DC comics or logarithms.

Just looking over that list, by the way, makes me NOT want to write individual blog entries. I suppose I could just do a quick blurb on each…or maybe a spreadsheet.

[time passes]

OKAY…worked up a quick chart of what I like/want in a superhero RPG, and then scored all my RPGs against it in 11 categories. None of ‘em score even 65% of the total possible points, and more than half score 50% or less.

Not surprisingly, the two tied for “top honors” at 63.6% are Marvel Superheroes and Heroes Unlimited. Despite all their flaws, they have more of what I need than any of the rest. Bottom of the group was Champions with a piss-poor 31.8%. Mutants & Masterminds was 2nd up from the bottom (tied with Guardians) at 40.9%.

Here are the 11 scored categories (all were weighted equally); each category could score 0, .5, or 1:

Chargen speed: this is both overall speed and ease of chargen. Random is fastest (1 point), choice is slow (0 points), and random with calculations or choice with limited options was medium (.5 points). Processes that required story building or power modeling were also on the SLOW side.

Coherent power sets: does chargen create characters with coherent or thoughtful power sets? Generally, this score was inversely proportionate to chargen speed, though a couple RPGs (Capes and Heroes Unlimited) stand out above the rest in both categories.

Heroic metagame: Can Captain America go a few rounds with the Hulk? Can Green Arrow bullseye that weak spot in the otherwise impenetrable enemy? I was lenient with this category: either a full point for yes or no points for no, regardless of the extent of the metagame (otherwise I probably would have scored M&M lower).

Varying power levels: Does the game go from Rorschach up to Superman from the get go? This is important…do the characters power levels vary right from the start, depending on the choices made or random dice rolls? Or are power levels somehow “capped.”

Character mortality: I like the threat of death in the game; that’s just how I roll. Only .5 a point if Aunt Pay can get stomped by Galactus and still “pull through.”

Systematic advancement: I like levels in superhero games. This was an “either/or” category for me.

Quick combat: Fast-pacing is appropriate for superhero RPGs, both in execution AND resolution (round after round of bidding and finagling narration is not my cup of tea. Neither is an exorbitant amount of dice rolled maneuvers).

Skill systems: Only games with NO skill systems got full points. Half-points to package skill systems (Godlike), or limited/random “Talents” (Marvel). Heroes Unlimited gets 0 for being totally retarded.

Personality/Drama mechanics: superhero games should have system-designed consequences for taking un-heroic actions. Half-points were possible for personality limits built into basic chargen (Champions) but NOT for flaws only found in supplemental “players guides” (Aberrant).

Search & Handling time: how well organized is the rule-book? If charts are needed, how readily accessible are they? I was generally pretty lenient with this one, only awarding zeros to crazy-disorganized, micro-managed, and scattered or obscure rule systems (you can probably guess who got docked).

Granularity: it’s one thing to have power levels that vary from Thor to Daredevil, but is there room for variation between Daredevil and the Punisher? If Cyclops and Hawkeye arm wrestled, who would win? I don’t need different damage between, say, a 9mm and a .45 but I would like distinctions between individuals at the street level that don’t just come down to the flip of a coin.

I suppose I’ve been spoiled by superhero comic books and films giving me unrealistic expectations of what to expect in an RPG. Well, that and my perhaps unrealistic expectations of what is possible to achieve with an RPG.
; )


  1. The two that jump out at me as being "missing" are Games Workshop's Golden Heroes (available online as Squadron UK, I believe) and the card-based Marvel Superheroes Adventure Game. I'm not surprised that you don't have the former, but the latter is a well-regarded system, so I am a bit surprised that you don't have a copy somewhere in your extensive collection.

    I suppose the early 2000s Marvel rpg should be on the list too, although I've never heard of anyone actually playing it.

  2. The 2000s Marvel rpg was interesting, but once you started using more than 3 or 4 villains at the same time, things got ugly for the GM (juggling beads all over the table!)

    My favourite is TSR's Marvel Super Heroes (basic). Fast, furious, fun (to steal a quote) ;)
    I used it to run Sword & Sorcery scenarios, too (after all, Conan was a Marvel character!)

  3. Underground that used the DC Heroes system by Mayfair was a fun system. I played a pair of characters modeled after Pinky and the Brain and installed a caffeine gland into the team's speedster.


  4. You know what? I completely forgot to mention Mutant City Blues, which has a great scheme for superpowers. It is very specific to low powered police stories however, not superteams saving the world from aliens or anything.

  5. Ah yes, GUMSHOE is a brilliant system, and MCB is really excellent.

  6. ICONS is due out this month (the PDF is already available for $15). Very MSH-like, very fast random character creation (though you can really go to town delving into the character's back story to devise Qualities and Challenges - role playing devices to trigger Karma gain), Slam and Stun, Determination (read 'Karma'), in game play the player's make most of the rolls (GM says 'bad guys tries to hit you' and it's up to the PC to roll his evasion as well as his/her attacks when the time comes).

    I'm running my first game Thursday night this week and I'll post my impressions later this week...

  7. Let's not forget Truth & Justice, which I really do love. (Not mentioned: Gurps Supers. I'm fine with it it but since it's not on your list, I assume you are not a Gurps fan).

  8. @ Risus: Not on my list because I don't own it.

    @ Clarence: I heard something about ICONS somewhere else...definitely needs a little research.

  9. @JB

    That would probably be hearing it (ICONS that is) from me in response to your original post about Mutants & Masterminds :)

    I won't reiterate what was said about it, but I do recommend it. I showed it to my LL/AEC group and they're thinking of doing a few one-shots for it, made easy by the fact that character generation is a breeze (and mostly random!)