Friday, June 17, 2011

Superhero games and stuff

I was never the most avid comic book reader, but I certainly do enjoy the genre. My favorite character is a toss-up between Captain America, Dr. Doom and Lex Luthor; Doom comes out on top for overall awesomeness, though. What's interesting to me regarding the whole DC vs. Marvel debate is that the Marvel Universe, as a whole, seems to be "more interesting", yet individually DC has the best heroes. I suppose it's the difference between enjoying team sports vs. individual sports.

Anyway, there are a lot of superhero rpgs out there, and I own nearly all of them. My exploits in the Jeff Dee-run V&V game at NTRPGCon were described earlier, and yes, I own all the editions of that game. Here's a quick run-down of what I have actually played (or play tested) and a few thoughts about them:

Champions (old)

I'll lump in the 2nd - 4th editions here, before Steven S. Long took over development. A lot of fun, really, and not to unwieldy. The point-buy system is good, but honestly, I got way more mileage out of the 2nd edition rules when I was a kid than I ever did out of the more unified approach taken by the BBB. Less is more, perhaps. It's fun to create characters, combat can take a while.

Champions/HERO (new)

I have 5th edition, 5th edition revised and 6th. Production values of 6th are top-notch, but the gaming system itself...geeze, what the fuck happened here? The writing isn't bad, but a lot of the flavor is gone. I do realize the intention was to create a tool-kit or something, but this really isn't a roleplaying game so much as it is a system for tactical combat. I keep wanting to play this, but after spending an hour trying to make a character, just seems like a pain in the ass. Creating a character with a Multipower is harder to me than the old 2nd edition way. Still, the wargamer in me loves this "game"; the fun part is creating powers and crap. Playing it, eh, no real interest.

DC Heroes (1st - 3rd)

My favorite superhero game, didn't really change much between editions. Attributes and powers are quantified in a logarithmic fashion which means you don't need to define Superman's strength in the billions. Another point buy, but much more limited in the sense that the powers are much more defined. You want to teleport, buy the teleport power and that's it. No modifiers and other stuff to add. This leads to more description and less worry about implementation within the system, which is a gripe I have with HERO. A major advantage over HERO is no SPD chart: multiple actions just reduce the APs of an attribute/power. In comic terms, it means Batman can beat the shit out of 8 thugs in one round with a good chance of success.

Blood of Heroes

This is essentially DCH 3rd edition with a few updates. How they managed to take a wonderful system and turn it into a pile of shit is beyond me. The actual game is fine, but the writing and art is awful. I think this pissed off a lot of DCH fans, with good reason.

Villains and Vigilantes

The first superhero game I ever played with random character creation. Part of me likes designing characters, the other part likes random generation. V&V makes the base hero YOU, then adds random powers. You're literally playing yourself, somehow altered with super powers. Definitely a different feel, but I liked it. Some of it was clunky, and I never have been completely satisfied with how combat was handled. The 3rd edition preview at the con led me to believe there was some emphasis on cleaning up the rules, and I'm curious to see how that goes. Overall, fun game.

Marvel Superheroes RPG

Random character generation and a quick-n-dirty approach to handling combat and power usage makes for a fast, fun game. Where the DCH system itself implies a more somber tone (much like the comics), the MSH system feels pretty much like a Marvel comic. Does that make any sense? Hell if I know, it's hard to explain. Essentially, trying to create Spiderman in DCH doesn't really work, just like Superman is hard to do in MSH. The Book of Ultimate, this is easily the best book for superhero gaming out there. I'm on the fence about MSH, mostly because I think the character creation is great but the system isn't granular enough. The same could be said about DCH, but I think that game does a better job at implementation.

GURPS Supers

I'm throwing this in there as a way to point out what a terrible job GURPS does for superheroes. I like GURPS a lot, but the 3rd edition failed miserably for simulating comics. 4th edition is somewhat better, but I'd never play it. Sort of like HERO, making characters is fun, but playing isn't something I'd care to do. Combat in comics is fast and furious, GURPS and HERO get bogged down with all sorts of minutiae.


This game is new and by that I mean first published a year ago. I had such high hopes for ICONS after reading reviews of it, but honestly, it isn't that great. I don't particularly care for how the powers are handled, nor for the non-open ended approach to attributes. I haven't played ICONS beyond a short sample scenario, so it might actually be better in implementation than what I've read, but I'll probably never get around to it.

Silver Age Sentinels

Based on Guardian of Order's Big Eyes Small Mouth system. When I first got the book, I thought, wow, this is great. But after playing a few sessions, it just felt a little stale to me. Tri-Stat always fools me into thinking it's a great system to run games, but the reality sets in during play that I was in fact mistaken. Honestly, characters are almost as difficult to make as in HERO, so what's the point? I don't regret the purchase, but most likely I'll never play SAS again.

Heroes Unlimited

A Palladium game, so that tells you quite a bit. I still think the TMNT RPG is one of the best games every written, even if the Palladium system itself is kind of wonky. HU is fun, has a lot of cool, interesting powers, especially if you use the Villains Unlimited supplement, and is fast as hell to run. For low-level type games, HU works great. It breaks down instantly when you start trying to play a character like Superman or Hulk. I'd play HU if given the chance as I have nothing but fond memories of my Invulnerable hobo-turned-superhero getting his ass kicked by a villain countless times before the villain finally gave up due to exhaustion.

Mutants and Masterminds/DC Adventures

1st edition was a good try, 2nd edition was alright, 3rd edition tried to fix things and uses the DC license. How this game manages to fail is beyond me. It reads great, has a decent point-buy character creation system...but fuck, it literally sucks. I cannot get engaged by this game because it doesn't offer anything I can't get from another game with a lot less bullshit. If I wanted to create my own power frameworks, why not just use HERO? I don't mind that Fighting is a distinct stat, but MSH does it better. M&M/DCA seems to take all the good parts of other games and marries them to a simple, linear d20 roll that sucks all the fun out of playing a superhero. It's possible I'm exaggerating, evaluating the game based on what I think it should be vs. what it is. Well, if you're going to call yourself DCA, you should probably be able to accurately model DC superheroes. Of course, I bought all the stuff and pre-ordered the stat books.


Uses Basic Roleplaying as the base system, which means it is good for gritty comicbook games but not for higher powered stuff. I like Superworld but wouldn't play it for no reason other than it seems rather flavorless. I'd rather use GURPS if I wanted low power, to be honest.

There are a few other games I know of but have never played (Brave New World, Wild Talents and Godlike come to mind). I don't have any interest in those games as they seem to be geared for a specific setting that doesn't appeal to me. This post has a purpose, follow-up to come soon.


  1. A pretty nice rundown. I've been thinking about Super RPGs quite a but lately, trying to decide what system would really suit my style as GM. ICONS was bubbling to the top, but never having played it, I worry that the system will fall down. I love Gurps and I agree that it is a non-starter in Supers. I think M&M/DC Heroes is a top-notch product and I think I'd love to play it... but it seems a little much for me to use as a GM.

    Currently, my thinking is Truth & Justice. I've always had a soft spot for PDQ and until ICONS came along, I was convinced that this was my favorite Super RPG. Now that the shine is starting to come off ICONS, I'm starting to head back that way.

  2. Never heard of Truth & Justice. Can you give me a quick run-down?

    I agree that M&M 3rd edition is a top-notch product, it just fails me as a player because it is nearly as complex as HERO yet offers nothing for that complexity. I really did not like running combat using the system.

  3. I enjoyed V&V. There's a collection of villains for it - the name escapes me now - that I absolutely love. There's a lighthearted approach to each entry that makes it so appealing. It's one of my favorite all around game supplements of all time.

  4. Truth & Justice:

    It's the supers sourcebook for PDQ (Prose Descriptive Qualities) RPG, the base (non-supers) system is free at Atomic Sock Monkey's website. PDQ lies somewhere between Risus and FATE for crunch (which is to say it is pretty darn light). It's more narrative focused than simulationist, though it does have an extensive list of powers. It is a good stunt system (fed by Hero points) and it is very easy to invent new abilities.

  5. Don't forget Mystery Men!--the new OSR offering over at Land of Nod: