Friday, July 9, 2010

One Badass Supers Game

I went down to Gary's today looking for a used copy of Ninjas & Superspies...that's just how bad my ninja fixation has been this last week (did I mention I spent last night watching a G4 marathon of the reality contest Ninja Warrior? Holy cow those dudes are fit!).

Unfortunately, while I must have seen the book on the shelf every day for the last...oh, six months or was missing in action today. I read through the new copy just to make sure I could bear to live without it (I could), and decided the stars and cosmos had all aligned today to prevent me from making a ninja-madness induced purchase.

At the same time, the universe provided me with a bounty of gifts, as I was able to pick-up Rifts Sourcebook 1 (completing my quest for "essential-Rifts-books-in-case-I-ever-run-a-game-in-the-future"), Revised Recon (a game I've spent a few years looking), and the complete three volume set of Chaosium's Superworld.

I've mentioned before that I am a sucker for superhero games...I've also talked and brainstormed the beginnings of my own B/X-based supers game. Well, after reading Superworld front-to-back over breakfast, my quest for an excellent superhero RPG may well have come to an end.

No, it's not a perfect RPG, nor even a perfect superhero RPG. But it sure is a badass one. Simple to use (a much toned-down, stream-lined sill system compared to Chaosium's other BRP system is a Big Plus), and written in a matter-of-fact, straight-forward fashion (if I DO finish designing my own superhero game I'm going to be taking A LOT of cues from Superworld), I came away extremely impressed...and anxious to try it out.

I can see how such a system could be used for the creation of such a vibrant universe as the Wild Cards series. Really. As I said in last night's post, I've been feeling pretty "low brow" all you other cats are operating on a higher level than myself. Recently, I thought I'd contribute my two cents over at the Revolution's discussion on personality mechanics and was again slapped down by someone who considered the discussion to be operating on a "deeper level" (likewise over at Tao of D&D...I don't even know why I try butting heads with that guy).

But regarding personality mechanics for a seems to me there are three approaches one can take to incorporating them in an RPG:

- have a simple game with only minimal rules (say, D&D regarding alignment) that allow one to get pretty much exactly what one puts in

- have a game that deeply ingrains personality mechanics into the normal system (say, The Riddle of Steel and its spiritual attributes)

- have a game that pays lip-service to "in-depth role-playing" but with very little mechanical consequences (say, Vampire's "prelude questionnaire")

[yes, I'm intimately familiar with Vampire's humanity mechanics. Know what? Big whoop-dee-doo. Once your humanity has been reduced sufficiently, it has little lasting effect even on the committing of heinous crimes and, with the advent of the Sabbat books, one can always take an inhuman "Path of Enlightenment" or whatever they're called, and then there's nothing to stop characters from being raging monsters. In the end, isn't that what the whole vampire fantasy/fetish is?]

Oh, yeah, there's a 4th way RPGs can go...make a game that has pretty much ZERO to do with personality mechanics, but instead make it a combat-happy video-game-on-a-table. You know, the kind of thing you find in post-2000 commercial RPGs?

ANYway...of the three approaches, I actually find option #1 to be the most competent at developing inner game personalities and actual nuanced change over time. Of course, this requires two things from the players (and I include DM/GM as player here):

1) a commitment to exploring said personality (i.e. "inner life") development, and
2) a long term time commitment.

The first is necessary because...well, because with little in the way of mechanical rules there's nothing that holds you to the development. You get out what you put in (this doesn't work with the rule heavier games in general because there's so much other extraneous stuff going...generally, combat/tactical/resource management). You have the TIME (and hopefully the extra energy) to manage your character's inner life, so take advantage.

The second is necessary because, as in "real life," changes to one's personality "matrix" generally happens over time. We as people are generally slow to change our ways and beliefs, and the integration of experience into our personalities is usually NOT a fast process. If you have never played a long term campaign of D&D, chances are you've never had a lot of personality development (and I would argue you've missed out on some of the richer potential for role-playing).

Superworld is like D&D. It has almost ZERO with regard to personality mechanics (you can claim a few extra points for certain psychological disadvantages and that's about it), but also has a fairly simple system that doesn't occupy one's time at the table with a bunch of other junk (hey, BRP is nothing if not fairly simple to use...and the earlier BRP systems are even easier than the more recent versions, in my opinion). What's more, because it's a specific "genre" or RPG (in this case, comic book superhero-ing of the early '80s) there are certain recognizable conventions (like not killing people at your mercy) that, while they don't HAVE to be followed, certainly can be if everyone at the table is on-board.

Anyway, I dig it. I'll have to throw together some characters to see if I can model everything on the "Green Spectrum" (i.e. Green Arrow to the Green Goliath, aka The Hulk). I have a feeling that it IS possible, and if so...well, I don't REALLY need to write my own game if I have one that does everything for me, right?

: )


  1. Obviously you have a local reader who caught the ninja bug from you and lives closer to Gary's than you.

  2. Superworld is even betterif you can track down Superworld Companion. I got lucky; a copy was tossed in my Superworld boxed set so it was a free addition I wasn't expecting.

  3. Almost exactly a year later and here I am again...been playing Superworld, it is indeed a badass super hero game. I see it written off by ignorami who appear to have never played it and are simply repeating what they have been told, such as "it doesn't handle high-powered heroics well" and other nonsense. Honestly, anything Champions can do so can Superworld except with Superworld we use percentiles which are easier for new players to intuitively understand, and there's less min-maxing in my experience and none of the niggling -1/4 +1/2 -1/3 work needed when creating a hero. Champions is a good game too (or was) if you have the patience for it and can endure a lot of bookkeeping, but Superworld is so much fun I can't see changing back.

  4. Ninjas & Superspies brings an Aliens Unlimited i GMed some years ago, weird as it may sound. Aliens Unlimited mentions Mystic China, of all things, as a reference for "space mysticism" in the setting and i ended up making a curious blend out of this and some other two-bit references.

    Superworld - i do have a PDF copy, but shame on me, never dug in deep, even though i have read and played a bunch of other Chaosium stuff.

    1. Huh...that would be a pretty wild mix. And not necessarily a bad one. Palladium is pretty wild and wooly...and so are most comic book universes!

      I've never delved back into Superworld since my initial reading, mainly because certain systems (instilled, I'm certain, to preserve "game balance") stymied rather important super super a degree that I found unacceptable.