Thursday, March 18, 2021

What I Want in A Superhero Rpg

When it comes to superhero rpgs, I've played and enjoyed a few of them over the years starting with Villains & Vigilantes and going through the Marvel Superheroes Roleplaying Game, DC Heroes rpg, Champions, GURPS Supers, and Mutants & Masterminds. I've owned and read numerous others, including Heroes Unlimited, Wild Talents, Silver Age Sentinels and ICONS. I'm about to give the Sentinel Comics rpg a whirl.

I don't think I've ever found the perfect supers game for me, though. At least, not perfect for what the 2021 version of me wants out of one. These are the things I think I'm looking for:

Low to Medium crunch. I'm not interested in rules heavier games like Champions or GURPS currently. I would suspect medium crunch games would probably give the best balance between covering what needs to be covered, but not doing too much.

Emulates comics. I'm interested in something that supports creating the sort of thing we see in comic books (or superhero film) not "a world with superheroes." Some of my following points sort of flow from this one.

"Every member of the Justice League gets to do something important." Older superhero games, to me, make the mistake of wanting to tailor attributes/power levels to benchmarks, winding up with disparate power levels. Sure, things like Karma/Hero Points address some of this, but in comics it mostly seems that power levels wind up being more about how characters tackle problems than whether they can tackle them. The Fantastic Four beats Dr. Doom, but so does the Punisher (or close enough). They just do it in different ways.

Heroic Normals are viable. Because of the ability score benchmarks, guys like Nick Fury or the Challengers of the Unknown tend to come out pretty samey in abilities because the normal end of the scale gets shortened. A system that gave them more variation would be nice. Of course, if you wanted a campaign of these folks, one could just play a nonsuperhero game, so this perhaps isn't as important to me as other points.

Variable Villains. Ever noticed how villains tend to be tougher or weaker depending on the hero or heroes their dealing with? I suppose it could be argued the heroes change and the villains stay the same, but anyway it might be nice if supers rpgs had mechanics for this difference.

Powers not overly detailed, but not quite freeform. Honestly, I lean toward more of a "just tell me what is does take", but you need to certain mechanics attached to powers to use them in the game, and you also need suggestions for people modeling powers, so for that it seems like completely freeform isn't the way to go. 

Supreme effort. This is one supers games seem to consistently pick up, but it bears repeating. There should be a means of a hero giving it that extra oomph in a dramatic moment.

There's probably something else I'm not thinking of, but that's all I've got now.


Warduke said...

BASH! hits most of those, certainly the medium crunch sweet spot. 90% of what Champions/M&M do with 10% of the effort.

The just released Prowlers & Paragons is very similar.

Dick McGee said...

Sounds like Sentinels might just be your thing, it does pretty much all of that fairly well - at least on paper. Haven't had a chance to try the darn thing yet, waiting for a resumption of face-to-face play.

Personally I enjoyed White Wolf's Aberrant back in the late 90s/early 2000s, but it certainly wasn't a traditional comic super-setting and my fondness for it may be based on having an unusually good group to play with. I've tried most of the others you mentioned and like you, never quite found the perfect rule set. Savage Worlds' various takes on supers came pretty close, but still not quite there.

Magpie Games' Masks sound interesting, but again not quite what I think of in comics outside of maybe Silver Age Teen Titans. I have been thinking about whether it could be adapted to the PS238 comic's setting (ie superhero elementary school rather than teens) - love the book (or web comic, these days) and it deserves better than the Champions port it got.

Picador said...

Haven’t played it, but the Venture City supplement for Fate is supposed to be great, and I suspect satisfies all your criteria above. Fate in general is good at genre emulation and balancing character contributions regardless of power level.

Scott said...

Did you ever look at Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, which used the nascent Cortex system, a few years back? Honestly, I never got to play it much but I was pretty active in character modeling threads on the forums and such, and it really seemed like its mechanics would hit your sweet spot for a lot of these factors.

Unknown said...

Savage World's Supers may work.

JB said...

The closest I've found to what you're looking for is the Supers! RPG. Combined with SOME (and *only* some!) aspects of its later "Revised Edition" it's THE BEST GENERIC SUPERS GAME I"VE EVER SEEN. About the only thing it doesn't do is gritty, street-level granularity (know Green Arrow/Longbow Hunters stuff), or mechanically-supported soap opera drama.

[for RPGs that emphasize those latter two, I'd suggest either Heroes Unlimited 1E or With Great Power, respectively]

I wrote a couple deep-dive posts about Supers! and its successor on my blog. If you're interested, you can find them here:

Trey said...

@JB - I read your review of Supers! the other day, actually. Sounds like one to check out.
@Scott - What I've read about it in forums and whatnot makes it sound interesting. I picked it out the other day, but I haven't read it yet.
@Dick McGee - I have Aberrant, but I've never played it.
@Warduke, Picador, and Unknown - Thanks for the suggestions!

JDJarvis said...

Ever try Superworld? Just enough crunch to be crunchy but pretty simple rules and it's compatible with all the other Chaosium
BRP systems.

Peter said...

My first superhero RPG was the card-based SAGA Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game. It sports an interesting mechanic called "Edge", expressed in a value 1-5. The higher a hero's Edge, the more cards a hero can play. A hero with an Edge of 3, for example, can play all cards from his hand with a value of 1, 2 or 3 in addition to the one card the hero would play in that round. A badass normal like Captain America (in his classic version a normal man functioning at peak human efficiency) has a superior Edge and can outcompete villains like Doctor Doom, or even a Hulk...

WQRobb said...

I'll second Prowlers & Paragons. I'm also checking out Union City Heroes, which features Classes and Levels (referred to confusingly as "archtypes" and "classes") which is a little helpful in making sure everyone has their niche.

Son Of The Right Hand said...

Your "Every member of the Justice League..." point makes me think of Fate. Not familiar enough to recommend a particular setting, but I know they've got at least one supers one.

Like, it's not the technical abilities of Batman in Dark Knight Returns that allow him to fight Superman as much as out is the story elements, and I think that's Fate's niche.

Now, I've only played it once, and I don't know how well it'd work with the rest of your points, so take this with a grain of salt.

Gundobad said...

The superhero PbtA game *Worlds in Peril* is my recommendation. Whether or not PbtA stuff normally appeals to you, my read of the rules suggests it really fits the dynamism of this genre. WiP also would nicely handle some of your preferred points here.

Knight of Roses said...

I have been very happy with MASKS, but, as was mentioned about, it is optimized to a particular superhero sub-genre (teen supers).