Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Supers! Revised Edition (Comparison Review)

[quick word o warning: this is a looooong post. Seriously]

In my last post, I wrote the following (with specific regard to the Supers! RPG compared to the Supers! Revised Edition):

"If I'd read an appraisal of the game in comparison to its original version, I probably wouldn't have shelled out the money for it. That's money (and time) that could have been spent in support of someone else's game."

Fancy Cover
In retrospect, this is far too harsh an assessment. Supers! Revised Edition (hereafter abbreviated as RED) is a good game, and (in more than a few ways) a nice...perhaps needed...update of the original. However, I wouldn't laud accolades on the book for the same thing others do...I don't think the layout or presentation is necessarily better than original book for instance, and while it has a ton of decent art, I don't find the updated graphics and "presentation" to be an improvement worth remark. To the contrary, the book feels a bit cluttered for my taste.

Likewise, I'm not uber-impressed with the "extras" that have been tacked on. Things like miniature rules and random chargen are fine little options, but I wouldn't use 'em and their location in the appendices (as opposed to in the main rules section) is an appropriate placement.

The new "goodies" (powers, aptitudes, boosts, ads, etc.) are hardly worth crowing about, and are actually where I'd lay my harshest criticism. All four of the new aptitudes are garbage, useless and throwaway, for a number of reasons (if someone wants me to elaborate I'm happy to do so, but this is going to be a long post as it is). Many of the "new" powers are likewise unnecessary padding: Additional Limbs is the same as Super Weaponry; Emotion Control is just Mind Control with the complication "limited to emotions;" Super Running is just Super Speed with the complication "limited to running" (if you want to "double up" for your flash clone, make it a power specific boost for extra doubling...though RED doesn't have the same 5D limit for starting powers as the original game, so there's nothing to prevent a person from throwing 10D in Super Speed and getting the same effect). Super Swimming is such an incidental (i.e. seldom of practical value) power, that if you're not going to stick with the original game's Water Powers, you might as well drop it. Meanwhile, dividing the original game's Paralysis power into Mental Paralysis and Physical Paralysis (when they do the same thing and definition/color is already inherent in the original power) is about as good an example of "bloat" as anything.

Of the truly new powers in the game (and I'm not counting the renamed ones...renaming Web to Ensnare is just fine), the only ones worth keeping are the following: Absorption, Communication, Damage Aura, Dimensional Travel, Imbue, Mimic Aptitude, Mimic Energy, Obscure, Probability Control, Transformation, and Time Travel. Of these, Communication has dubious practical value (as written, it's not much different from the Omni Translator advantage) and Probability Control has problematic aspects, probably better modeled by the use of a high Competency Pool and its new "Narrative Control" option. I understand why Damage Aura and Obscure are their own powers (as opposed to boosts/complications of other similar powers), but I'm not sure they don't present some problematic aspects with the way they break the normal rules, especially Damage Aura.

Super Aptitude deserves special mention for being broken and undermining the whole concept of aptitudes and their mundanity; it seems like someone wanted an excuse to allow an uber-fighty guy to sum more than three dice. Look, dudes, if you want to build Midnighter, use Super Brain (and, hell, give it a "limited to fighting" complication) to model his "mental battle computer." Whoever put this power in the book must not have been thinking clearly.

Revising the system for using advantages/disadvantages from the original game was needed (due to it being broken) but the updated list of ads/disads is something of a mixed bag. While ads like alter ego, animal friendship, feign death, and omni translator...and, yes, water breathing by itself...all fit fine as minor powers available for 1D, I don't see why RED fails to keep similar minor ads longevity and tolerance from the original game. Others, like celebrity, intimidating, and nonsentience, are junkable padding, as are mentor, police powers, and security clearance (these three can be modeled using allies). For all ads, I'd limit their cost to 1D and make 'em reactivate-able via use of Competency dice (it fits with the CP's expanded purview) rather than make them so damn fiddly. Not sure why Super Vehicle isn't a straight power with a device complication. I guess because they want to create new vehicle combat rules.

Special mention for crap goes to the new ads Occupation and Size Big/Small. Just so unnecessary except for folks wanting to min-max. A character's aptitude already implies occupation (and level of expertise) this is just a cheap way to get re-rolls for shooting, etc. (rather than use bonuses from one's Competency Pool...what happened to "unified task resolution?" Where else is there a re-roll mechanic?). Size...same deal. These are super-heroes (implied human scale), if they grow big or small then they've got the proper power, if it's "always on" they have the proper complication. If this isn't about min-maxing then it's "kitchen sink" (or sloppy) design. I mean, you can already use Supers! to model (say) Transformers with giant robots simply by scaling what the D6s represent.

[oh, yeah...Base of Operations. So much more straightforward in the original game as Hideout. Again, why do you need to put dice in a base's "aptitude?" It's the character that is performing the lab/science roll (represented by how many dice you give your character). And building an Avengers Mansion or  Hall of Justice? Who wants to spend chargen dice to that? If the campaign setting requires such a structure for the team (instead of an individual wanting his personal Batcave, i.e. a Hideout) then just give it to them]

Disadvantages? Most of these are fine, though I'd limit them all to a 1D bonus (and only take the most severe version of each...for example BLIND instead of NEARSIGHTED. A character can always wear glasses//contacts/goggles-with-corrective-lenses). Of course, this means there are only a couple-four new ones (accidental transformation, bad luck, power loss, and unskilled), and bad luck probably needs to be rewritten or dropped (it's the same as the dumb luck advantage except the GM calls for the re-roll...if a character is rolling their 5D traits all the time, it's still likely to result in a success). The one exception to "fine" in this category is the mental hindrances. I'd scrap all of these as they're fairly unenforceable and seem to exist just to give players bonus dice in chargen. If you want a quirky character, role-play 'em quirky.

[*pause for breath*]

OKAY, at this point you're asking why you should buy Supers! Revised Edition when the original Supers! is still available as a PDF for $1? If you've gotten this far thru my too long review, here's the better stuff:

Rules-wise (everything up through page 20) the RED is actually a step-up from the original edition. Situational Modifiers (how they're defined, how they're used) are a nice addition. The Levels of Success mechanics (with Major Successes and Superior Successes) is a very nice addition, and allows for some neat tricks, specifically with regard to combat tactics.

[I will say I detest the charts as "clutter" but that's my personal bias. I can do math faster in my head]

The expanded Competency Pool rules (and the addition of Temporary Competency) is quite good and I've got no quibbles with it, save perhaps the "ignore disadvantage" use (you're already gaining a bonus die by spending from your Competency pool...feels redundant, though currency-wise it's fine so long as all the disads cost 1D). The related Assist rules (which can award Temporary Comp dice to the character you're helping) is fine, if a little clunky (why not just award a situational modifier?)

Combat is the next section where we see tweaks from the original game, and all of RED's are to the good. As I mentioned in a prior post, RED now allows any power, aptitude, or resistance to be used in defense of any type of attack, and is explicit along with providing good examples. The new method of calc'ing damage prevents some of the wilder swingy-ness that's possible under the old rules, and (to me) better represents the superhero genre...neither protagonists nor their nemeses are generally "one-shot" on a blown roll; that only happens to the no name mooks and goons. The set break points for damage escalation are also nicely uniform.

With the exception of critical strike (RED's answer to D20-style "power attacks"), all the combat maneuvers are good, and make good use of the new "levels of success" system (with specific escalation in effect based on major or superior success). It's reminiscent of MSH's Green-Yellow-Red effect chart (though without the chart) and I could see modeling many of the old MSH combat maneuvers in RED using the system. However, the maneuvers RED includes are just fine...and I especially like the options to utilize moves like Interrupt and Take One For the Team through either initiative delay OR comp die expenditure. If your character's competent, you get more options to play with (and because comp dice are earned in-play, a character's effectiveness increases as the player's knowledge of the play style increases...nice parallel there).

The Character Gen chapter starts on page 25, and despite my gripes about the expanded powers, etc. most of the chapter is excellent. Taking the cuffs off and just giving folks a die pool to build their character (an option in the basic book) is a logical next step, especially considering the small number of dice being used to construct the character (nowhere near most point-buy games). Of special note is the attention paid to resistances and the "benchmark" charts provided...this is really nice when trying to model one's favorite superheroes (again, shades of MSH). The design sidebars in this section are all pretty good, and unlike my earlier gripes most of the new boosts and complications appear useful and straightforward (though some are a bit on the "fiddly" side, especially in the boost section).

The character archetypes in this chapter, easily recognizable as the "standard builds" found in Mutants & Masterminds (just done in Supers! fashion)...well, it gave me a chuckle. I also noticed the MSH power types in the backgrounds & origins section (and Reid San Fellipo's incorporation of these into his random chargen appendix was well-done, especially the origin-specific adjustments).

The Judge's Guide (beginning page 107) is fine, though I think the "material strength" charts are come it's possible for a normal human to rend titanium with her bare hands? The major change here is with regard to the "mook rules" which has replaced to previous rating system with a dice system based on rating. I'd have to see how it works in-play, but if you want your Aunt May NPC to have a chance of knocking out Spider-Man with a vase from behind (or at least damaging him), the updated rules allow the possibility based on a good roll vs. bad roll. I don't know, it seems a little forced compared to the ease of the original system. But it allows for greater variation in "quality of mook" (with bonus dice for tougher goons, etc...kind o fiddly).

Similarly, Hazards (one of the stronger aspects of the original game, and the main reason I picked up Supers! instead of BASH) have been changed from a numerical rating to a dice rating. This I like quite a bit less than the original edition, as the randomness makes Hazards less dangerous much less dangerous, on average. I'd probably junk it in favor of the old rules. Drowning and falling are a bit fiddly/inelegant (again, they feel a bit like converted Advanced MSH), but are otherwise okay.

The Campaigning section is great, and a nice addition...there's no such section in the original game (perhaps making that ugly assumption that a GM will "just know what to do"). Quite helpful for the aspiring Supers! GM. Advancement is nicely laid out, as are the various options for character death, though the actual mechanics of character death are a bit broken (if resistances can be reduced to negative amounts, but only Fortitude and Will carry the possibility of death at negative levels, what prevents me from assigning all damage to Reflexes or Composure instead? Player gets choice of damage allocation after all, and both of those are allowed options for physical damage).

After that comes optional rules and appendixes which, as mentioned, I find fairly unremarkable.

So there...after a couple thousand words, I've got my feelings for Supers! Revised Edition off my chest, with precious little web "ink" spilled talking about art or layout or presentation. From a game standpoint, Supers! RED makes Supers! a better game...when it's not over-thinking / under-designing itself. But the original game still has value as a "check" of sorts against some of RED's silliness (like the "improved" Life Support power).

Fact o the matter is, even with these complaints, Supers! RED may be the best generic supers game I've ever seen. I realize that will raise an incredulous eyebrow from longtime fans of M&M, SuperWorld, V&V, MSH, Heroes Unlimited, and Champions, but...well, I'll stand by my statement. Yes, I have gripes (a long list of 'em), but they're things that can, in the main, be fixed by cutting and trimming (or ruthlessly wielding a fat black marker on one's print copy...see why white space is useful, people?). Washbourne's original Supers!, good as it was, had some serious issues (though I count neither presentation nor lack of material strength tables as being among them) that RED corrects quite handily. Armed with both books, I feel confident I could run a pretty good long as I wasn't looking for gritty, street-level granularity in my superhero action. Like MSH before it, Supers! doesn't really do low-level granularity all that well.

Ugh...I've got to get some sleep. Later, gators.

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