Monday, July 26, 2010

A "brief" Review of Super Hero RPGs

It's Alive! Oh what a terrible creation I have wrought. I started this blog because...well, to be honest, I have no earthly idea why I did it, but not only have I brought the world of amateur blogging to my living room, I have conscripted Aerion (looking for a couple painting tutorials bro...) and now Genoside into the fold. Inspired by a not-so-obscure comic convention, he brings us some of his thoughts on various roleplaying games in the super hero genre:

I'm back, this time to talk a little off subject about roleplaying games. Most members of Team Snake Eyes sneak in a few games of Pathfinder when they can. It's basically what was left of the previous edition of Dungeons & Dragons. It's a great fantasy game but with the west coast Comic Con last weekend still buzzing in my head, I am here to talk about another genre of RPGs...super hero games. I am hoping in the near future to run a super hero type game for my fellow members, but having so many systems out there it can cause a lot of trouble picking one out.

First off super hero games can be a very daunting challenge for the Game Master, due to the scale of the heroes. You have to watch very carefully about allowing players the ability to drop buildings on giant robots or perhaps turning a bank robber's brain into goo with a single though. If you don't give them any power, however, the game is no fun for them. Most players do want to throw cars around and drop buildings on their enemies so a balance has to be found.

The most helpful choice is getting a game system that works for you. There is a ton of them out there for you to use, but finding one that doesn't have you digging in the books every five minutes is key. Second, you need to have an idea what universe you want to play in. Most systems are made for the major comic producers; this can be beneficial and hurtful to you at the same time. Villains are already made for you so it reduces the prep work. It also allows your players to interact in a world they read about in their comics. The downside of this si that players sometimes know more about the universe than they should. Example: Dr. Mega Villain can only be hurt by prune juice and it so happens that one of the hero's powers is the make juice of any type.

With that said, we come to our first system: Hero/Champions by Hero Games. This is the grand daddy of all super hero games. It's now going into its sixth edition and the system is very detailed and gives you about any option known in any game. But that is where its biggest trouble is. This game scares most new players due to the sheer volume of rules. Making a hero can take hours and with the million options available, most people will want to see each one so they don't miss anything. This game also has no major comic support, so there is no Spider Man or others in this game unless you make it yourself or find a home brew version online somewhere. There are a lot of non comic pre-made heroes in their source books but if you are on a limited budget it means you are the one having to build about everything the heroes encounter.. It i a good game for people that are used to the system, but newbies should be warned.

Next up is classic Marvel Heroes. This is one of the first hero games that I played. It has little standees, maps, and books of pre-made heroes and villains. The rules are made for rock-em, sock-em style games. It has very nice, basic rules that are very easy to learn, but now that the game is over twenty five years old, you can really feel the age in the system. It almost feels like an advanced game of Hero-Clix. If you want to give it a read, most of the books can be found online in PDF format.

Talking of Hero-Clix, this is really not a RPG, but I love to use the figures and maps for my hero type games. You can find online stores that sell singles very cheap, plus they produce Marvel and DC figures. With the cheap figs you can convert and make any hero or villain you want allowing you to run a game in whatever universe you want.

Back to classic games, next up is the MEG system. It can be found in the previous version of DC heroes by Mayfair games and the Blood of Heroes. It is a good, solid game with simple basic rules, but since it is out of print it can be difficult to find. That makes it harder for your players to pick up their own personal copy of the game supplements and almost impossible without dropping a bunch of money on eBay.

Then we have Heroes Unlimited. Players familiar with any of the Palladium systems will pick this up with ease. The biggest problem I see with this system is play can tend to be clunk due to its age. Also you can have players that may want to pull their RIFTS heroes over and destroy half the world. The Mega Arms Race is off and running.

Last we have Mutants and Masterminds. Now going into its 3rd edition, it is based off the OGL (open game license) rules. It uses a basic system as 3rd edition D&D and Pathfinder. I have not had a chance to see the new unreleased rules set, but this is the system I am leaning towards. Green Ronin now has the rights to DC heroes and is also planning to release a generic rule book to go with it. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for an Ultimate Powers book real soon. My only real complaint of the previous editions was the damage system. It seemed a little odd and hard to explain to new players.

So there are my thoughts. Please feel free to give any suggestions of game I may want to look at.

Editor's note: Genoside sent the picture with the article submission. I couldn't resist taking a jab with the title.


sonsoftaurus said...

A hearty second for using cheap Heroclix figs for supers games.

I've heard good things about M&M. I played it once, seemed OK.

My group uses Champions 4th edition. IMO once you get into it it's really not that complicated, and there are easy ways to minimize the initial shock. As much as it's touted now as a universal system, it really works best at certain power levels. Try to make it cosmic or too "street" and it starts to break down.

FASERIP Marvel is the other one I have significant experience with, and it has a warm place in my heart. Creation is a breeze - write down how you want the ability to work, give it a rank, done. There are things from Champions I'd like to incorporate, like a better dodge mechanic like DCV, a better bell curve vs. straight %, and some variability in results vs. absolutes. It also (and I suspect, all supers systems will) works best at certain levels.

Some others to check out could be Silver Age Sentinels and Living Legends, which is the next-gen version of the old Villains & Vigilantes game.

chaplainaerion said...

Of the systems listed I have played HERO/Champions, old DC Superheroes, and classic Marvel. Of these three I would gladly revisit Marvel and DC. I, however, can't STAND the Hero system. When I play a superhero game I don't want to crunch numbers. I want to sit down, point at the bad guy, roll as few dice as possible, and make things go boom.

My biggest problem with Hero, aside from the bushels-full of numbers that must be juggled, is the tight focus of the system when it comes to powers.

If I create a telepath he should only be limited by my creativity and imagination (and power level) on how that power can be utilized in game. In Marvel this is represented by the rank and occasionally by power stunts that a character might train to make repeated focused uses of a power easier. In Hero I have to buy the power like a skill. If I want to think outside the box and do something new and different with the power, well, I can't until I gather enough XP to "buy" that ability. Superhero games should be (in my humble opinion) cenematic and slick, not laden with truckloads of rules and formulas requiring a slide-rule to maneuver.

Granted, my dislike of Hero is more of a personal preference than anything, and I readily acknowledge that the system has some good features. It's just not for me.

OT: How come Geno gets to use THAT pic and I get scolded for a burly biker?

P.S.: What kind of tutorial do you want?

chosen1 said...

A couple of reasons really. I'm encouraging him to're already hooked. ;) Besides, I was leaving that door open for you to go through. It was getting late last night and I just didn't have the energy to give him the ribbing that this picture deserves. As for tutorials? We'll work on the Salamanders as we do this year's work. Your award winning Templars could do for a little write up at some point.

chaplainaerion said...

I'll have to get some pics and I REALLY want to get a light box for use at trying to increase Ebay income. I'll see what I can wrangle after GenCon damages have been figured.

ShadowCrescents said...

First of all, this is my first blog that will be leaving on here. Second of all, whoever posted that pic of a "brief" review of a super hero rpg needs to help pay for my future counseling sessions from to get that image OUT OF MY HEAD!! Thank you very much for that being BURNED into my brain.