Gentleman John looks at ... Superhero RPGs

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Gentleman John looks at ... Superhero RPGs

Postby gentleman john » Sun Jul 03, 2011 1:13 pm

Apropos of a discussion elsewhere on these boards, (http://www.goblinoidgames.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=660) I am going through the shelves of my gaming collection and looking at the superhero RPGs I have acquired over 32 years of gaming. The plan is to write a series of short reviews explaining the different games systems and giving an idea of their flavour and how they played. The reviews are in no particular order. They merely reflect how easily I can get to the books.
Last edited by gentleman john on Sun Jul 03, 2011 1:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Gentleman John looks at ... Superhero RPGs

Postby gentleman john » Sun Jul 03, 2011 1:16 pm

The Mayfair Exponential Gaming System (MEGS)

Introduction

MEGS was the system created by Mayfair Games for its DC Heroes RPG. Ultimately, it was used in all three editions of the DC Heroes RPG, the Batman RPG and the independent Blood of Heroes RPG. A version of MEGS was used in the Underground RPG. For this review, I shall concentrate on the standard version of MEGS. Underground is very different and demands a review all to itself.

The System

MEGS is an exponential system. Everything in the system is measured by Action Points (or APs). Every AP doubles the amount of something. For example, 0 APs of time is 4 seconds, while 1 AP is 8 seconds, 2 APs is 16 seconds, and so on. This makes MEGS very flexible as it allows you to have ordinary characters at one end of the scale, and cosmic superheroes at the other - all dealt with using the same mechanics. It takes a while to get used to classifying real-world values in APs, but it makes the math easy when working out effects. All you have to do is add and subtract. The classic example for this is"How far can a PC with 12 APs of Strength throw a car?"

Looking at the benchmarks for MEGS, a car (1.5 tons) is 6 APs of weight. Subtracting the 6 from the 12 APs of Strength gives you 6 APs of distance. This is 200 yards …

Simple in theory. Unfortunately, doing this has meant looking up the relevant values twice in the appropriate tables.

Now, it gets more complicated. Characters have Active, Effective and Resistive characteristics spread across Physical, Mental and Spiritual areas. Thus, each character has 9 characteristics, plus power and skills. A points system is used to buy characteristics and abilities, with points being gained for taking disadvantages and limiting powers. All abilities are measured in APs. In order to carry out an action, you have to go through the following.

First, compare the values of the Acting characteristics involved in the action. There is a table for this (the Acting/Opposing Actions table) that shows what you must roll on 2d10 in order to succeed. Roll your 2d10. If you get doubles, roll again and add. Then compare the result of the roll to the Acting/Opposing Actions table and work out the Margin of Success. Now, you go to the Effecting/Resisting Actions table. You compare the appropriate Effective characteristic to the appropriate Resistive characteristic. This tells you how much of an effect your action has. However, this is then modified by the margin of success generated earlier. Add in the fact that there are various modifiers for different situations, and involved parties can spend Hero Points to modify all results on the tables, and you can see things get really complicated.

The rules allowed for various skills and powers, as well as advantages and disadvantages. They also contained one of the most complicated sets of gadgeteering rules ever produced. I will not go into them. Suffice to say, just ask any gamer who played DC Heroes how to create a fork, then watch them twitch.

The Games

There were three editions of the DC Heroes RPG. The first two were boxed sets, while the third edition was a softback book. The first edition was known as the "amazing exploding box". It contained three 32 page books (rules, powers and DC characters), a referee's screen, stand-up character flats, stands and character reference cards. Once opened, it was impossible to close the box. The second edition used a larger box, but with less components. However, it did have an Action Wheel that let you work out what was going on with the flick of a wrist.

There was a spin-off: the Batman RPG. This was a digest-sized paperback game that was a cutdown version of the 2nd edition rules. It included material from the Batman supplements for the 1st edition game to help detail Gotham City. It also contained an improved version of the gadgets rules.

Blood of Heroes was a licence of MEGS. There were two editions of this game, with rules that expanded on the original MEGS. Most of the game text simply took the DC Heroes 3rd edition rules and removed all references to the DC characters.

Underground, while it used MEGS, altered the rules significantly. This will be the subject of another review.

On the Shelf

DC Heroes 1st and 2nd editions, the Batman RPG and 2nd edition Blood of Heroes.
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Re: Gentleman John looks at ... Superhero RPGs

Postby gentleman john » Sun Jul 03, 2011 1:40 pm

As I have a writing class tomorrow night, I'll add another review for today.

Truth and Justice (T&J)

Introduction

T&J is Chad Underkoffler's superhero RPG. Published by Atomic Monkey Games, it uses the PDQ system seen in games such as Questers of the Middle Realms, Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies, Zorceror of Zo and Ninja Burger 2nd edition.

The System

T&J uses the Prose Descriptive Qualities (PDQ) system. In the PDQ system there are no set characteristics. Instead, characters are defined by abilities described by the players. These abilities run the gamut of skills, powers and qualities; the exact definition of any ability being decided on by the player and the referee. Thus, it is possible to have a character with the abilities Flight, Energy Beam and Cook if that is what you want. Abilities are rated on a default scale of -2 to +6. Abilities with a score of -2 are considered to be drawbacks.

The actual system is very simple. When carrying out any action, you roll 2d6 and add the level of the ability. The result is then compared to a difficulty: either an opposing ability or a straight difficulty number. The difference between the two is applied as an effect on an ability, reducing its effectiveness. While this can result in a "death spiral" effect, players can spend Hero Points to alter dice rolls and their effects.

Hero Points can also be used to power stunts. These are innovative uses of your abilities. For example, Captain Fast has been punched out of an aeroplane by the villains. The ground is looming up fast. How can he survive? Simple. He flaps his arms using his Super Speed ability, spends the Hero Points to make this a stunt, and rolls the dice. If he's lucky, he touches down like a feather.

When a character takes damage to an ability for the first time in a session, the referee is supposed to come up with a plot development that involves this ability. Of course, this can sometimes not be easy for the referee, but you can always save up the hurt for later.

T&J comes as an A4 size book or a pdf file. My preference is for the dead-tree edition. Both versions contain the core rules, a list of powers and advice on how to use them, as well as some sample backgrounds for the game.

The Games

There is only one version of T&J, although other games do use the PDQ system.

On the Shelf

Yes.
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Re: Gentleman John looks at ... Superhero RPGs

Postby gentleman john » Tue Jul 05, 2011 7:23 pm

Another in the series of reviews of superhero RPGs. This time it's ...

Marvel Superheroes and Advanced Marvel Superheroes

Introduction

So, back to the old school. Marvel Superheroes (MSH) and Advanced Marvel Superheroes (AMSH) are two superhero games that were published by TSR back in the early 80s. Like the DC Heroes RPG, they are a licensed game - but based on the Marvel universe.

The System

MSH and AMSH are essentially the same game, both based on the FASERIP system. The system is named after the seven characteristics used in the game (Fighting, Agility, Strength, Endurance, Reason, Intuition and Psyche) and is, in essence, a percentile-based system. Each of the characteristics is assigned a rank - such as Feeble, Good or Shift X. The ranks also have numerical values associated with them, but these are only important for calculating secondary characteristics. It's the names that count.

Actions are resolved by rolling percentile dice and cross-referencing the result against the appropriate rank on a chart. The chart is divided into coloured areas which indicate how successful the action has been. These levels of success are known as "Feats".

Powers are generated randomly from a list. There is some bias in the charts depending on the origin of your character, but the powers in both sets are rather basic. However, in order to address this, TSR published a supplement for AMSH called "The Ultimate Powers Book". This book contained a list of every power ever used the Marvel Universe, along with variants on them, and then tagged an improved character generation system on top of the lot. Still, if you use the Marvel characters as examples, a lot of them had totally made-up powers anyway.

Both games add rules for vehicles and gadgeteering. I say rules, but they are more a set of guidelines on how to do things. Ultimately, it all boils down to the referee assigning a difficulty to your efforts and telling you to roll. There are also rules for hero points, or Karma as the game calls it. Karma is awarded for doing good deeds and taken away for doing bad deed. Individual characters can have Karma of their own, or they can create Karma Pools for teams to share. Of course, you may want to rein in the team psychopath if you do this.

How well does the system work? Very well. Like many old-school systems the game depends on the use of charts. However, there is only one chart and it is very easy to reference. If you want to try it for yourself, Jeff Grubb has made AMSH freely available to anyone who wants it. There is also a thriving fan community.

On the Shelf

Yes. Definitely yes.
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Re: Gentleman John looks at ... Superhero RPGs

Postby gentleman john » Sun Jul 10, 2011 1:43 pm

A bit of a break, but a man has to celebrate his 42nd birthday.

GURPS Supers

Introduction

GURPS (as any gamer knows) stands for Generic Universal Role Playing System. And, boy, have SJG tried to make this game live up to their boast - especially with 3rd edition. One of the many supplements produced was GURPS Supers.

The System

GURPS is a system with a very old pedigree. It started life originally as the games Wizard and Melee and had a brief stint as the Fantasy Trip. Then, when Steve Jackson left Metagaming, he took the system with him and created GURPS. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, GURPS was a monster of a system. First off, there were the core books (GURPS and the 2 compendia), the splat books giving extra rules (magic, psionics and vehicles, for example), genre books and setting books. Just about every gamer I knew had at least one GURPS book, even if they never touched the rules.

The system itself ran on 3d6. Characters had skills that were rated anywhere from 10 or 11 to (in some cases) better than 40! All you had to do was apply the modifiers to the skills and rill 3d6 less than the result. Character generation was a bit of a pain, given that the people at SJG were so conscientious about skills and abilities. A basic logarithmic points system was used to buy skills and abilities, with bonus points being gained for disadvantages. However, where GuRPS stood out was the sheer specificity of the abilities available. Yes, you could have a skill in Animal Husbandry, but - look! There's a skill for Shepherd. How about a psychological disadvantage? What flavour do you want it in? You could be sure that somewhere in the rules was the exact skill or ability you wanted, but where the hell was it?

GURPS Supers was a genre book that gave rules for superhero gaming. The bulk of the book was made up of a bestiary of powers and modifiers for those powers. Powers were bought with character points, with simple (and stacking) percentage modifiers to the cost depending on what advantages and disadvantages you gave them. However, no matter how great your power, you still needed the skill to use it. GURPS Supers introduced the concept of skills associated with powers in order to differentiate between brute force and finesse. Both were achievable, but at a hideous cost in points. As with GURPS in general, the selection of powers was very specific, but clunky in implementation, making GURPS Supers characters harder to generate than standard GURPS characters.

Where GURPS Supers stood out (and, indeed, many GURPS books did) was in the background hints and notes. The book was more than just a skeleton for creating characters, it also gave ideas on how to run a superhero campaign; useful no matter what system you used.

The Games

SJG produced some spinoff settings for GUIRPS Supers: International Super Teams (a home-grown setting based on notes in GURPS Supers) and Wild Cards (based on the shared universe novels).

On the Shelf

GURPS Supers 2e and Wild Cards.
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Re: Gentleman John looks at ... Superhero RPGs

Postby Blood axe » Sun Jul 10, 2011 6:00 pm

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!! :!:
To defend: This is the Pact.
But when life loses its value,
and is taken for naught -
then the Pact is to Avenge.
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Re: Gentleman John looks at ... Superhero RPGs

Postby gentleman john » Mon Jul 11, 2011 6:23 pm

Thanks very much. But not so loud ... Hangovers get worse as you get older ... :mrgreen:
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Re: Gentleman John looks at ... Superhero RPGs

Postby seneschal » Fri Jul 15, 2011 6:12 pm

Now that you're all recovered, how about more of those excellent mini-reviews?
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Re: Gentleman John looks at ... Superhero RPGs

Postby gentleman john » Sat Jul 16, 2011 7:12 am

Your wish is my command, O Great One! Size of a reviewer!

Stuperpowers

Introduction

Now we get to the game that is the reason for this thread - Stuperpowers! No. That's not a misprint. That is actually the name of the game. Stuperpowers is a not-so-serious game of not-so-superheroes. It's about the people who were at the back of the queue when the secret origins were handed out: the mad, the bad and the downright disgusting.

The System

So, where do we start? Being absolutely honest, Stuperpowers doesn't have a system, but it has a lot of mechanisms, some of which even manage to make sense in context. So, let's start off with character generation. First off, get out your credit card. That's right - your credit card. Stuperpowers has a list of over 40 powers that you can have for your character. These range from the practical (Turn Bagels into Weapons) to the disgusting (Ballistic Spooge!) via the intriguingly useless (Summon Mariachi Band). Yes, you could be boring and use dice to select your powers, but the official method is to get out your credit card and place an order with the Big MacDaddy referee.

Each power has a set of rules individually tailored to its use in the game. For example, the power Action Figure Punch gives your character the ability to punch your opponent's lights out in the same way as an old Action Man (GI Joe for my overseas readers) does. However, this power can only be activated if someone or something pushes the button on your back. Some of the powers enter the realm of metagaming with their rules: Impressive Smile when activated requires everyone Including the players to waste a turn congratulating the owner on his or her really nice smile. Fortunately, Ballistic Spooge! does not go this far. However, in general, most powers devolve to dealing out Hurt to their tartest or lasting a number of turns.

The madness doesn't stop there. There are at least three different ways of resolving actions. In simple cases, all you have to do is toss a coin. More complex cases or conflicts involve protracted games of roshambo (scissors-paper-stone) to decide the winner. Finally, there is my personal favourite: the referee's decision is final. However, the ultimate intent of these mechanisms is to keep the action flowing.

Looking at this, you would be forgiven for thinking that Stuperpowers is an excuse for puerile jokes, bizarre humour and one-off games. Certainly, the first edition of Stuperpowers was just that. However, the writers managed to turn the second edition into a game that was actually suited for campaign play. The first step in doing this was to add a background to the game. While MSH had Marvel New York and DC Heroes had Gotham City and Metropolis, Stuperpowers gave you Knee Jerk City. While the authors freely admitted it was a load of plot hooks and bad puns mashed together, Knee Jerk City reflected the tone of the game perfectly.

The next step was to provide a Popularity system. This was a level system that allowed PCs to improve over time, but instead of relying on defeating foes it relied on getting press coverage of your deeds. This could backfire though. As your character became better known, their powers would peak and eventually wane (just like Elvis), until you were forced to fake your own death and reinvent your personality (just like Elvis).

Finally, the writers provided a multi-part campaign just to show you how to do it. This campaign started off with the real heroes heading off into space to face a galactic menace, nominating the PCs as the protectors of Knee Jerk City in their absence, and dying in the depths of space. During the campaign the players would face the wrath of the Evil Shopping Network, Time Travelling Tammy and her Time Bra, and eventually discover that the real heroes have been spending a year dead for tax reasons.

While I have to admit that I obtained my copies of the game as part payment for my stint reviewing games for Valkyrie, I would have paid for them anyway.

On the Shelf

1e and 2e
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Re: Gentleman John looks at ... Superhero RPGs

Postby gentleman john » Sat Jul 16, 2011 7:48 am

It's still just me awake at the minute. So, time for another review.

The DC Universe RPG

Introduction

Didn't we do the DC Heroes RPG? Yes, we did. This is different. Mayfair Games lost the DC licence sometime after the third edition of DC Heroes, but it must still have been considered worthwhile because it was picked up by West End Games. To be precise, it was picked up by Yeti (a French company) who had also picked up West End Games after they filed for bankruptcy. However, I digress. This is a games review, not an issue of the Financial Times.

The System

The core rules for the DC Universe RPG (let's just call it DCU from here on in) came in a box with full colour artwork. For your money you got a nicely bound players' book that contained most of the rules and a list of powers, a rather crappy newsprint-style narrator's book that was chock-full of useful tips for those new to superhero RPGs, a narrator's screen, a poster of the box artwork and some dice.

The rules for DCU were based on West End's d6 system, specifically a combination of the d6 system and the Masterbook system. Instead of using normal d6, the game provided you with a spiffy set of Hero Dice marked with symbols for the main heroes and villains. Action cards could be used to change dice results or to give bonuses in specific situations. Even with this, the actual mechanics were very old school, as could be seen by the number of tables that were on the narrator's screen.

Character generation was through a points-buy system. The narrator would decide how many points he wanted to allow players to have, and players would use these points to buy abilities, powers and equipment. Powers were bought in levels, each level granting you certain abilities that were listed in the power's description. Unfortunately, this meant that you were stuck with what the writers considered to be how powers should work. For example, the power Sound Control allowed you to unleash increasingly devastating sonic blasts as you went up in power, and this from the start. However, being able to manipulate sound or even damp it out meant you had to buy at least five levels of Sound Control. In many cases, the description of the new abilities was just a "+x to damage", which meant that with 40 levels to a power there was a lot of wasted space.

Did DCU work? No. Ultimately, characters were hodgepodges of stats that did not make sense, while the system had neither the elegance of the old d6 Star Wars or the fun of Masterbook. Production values were also all over the place. Full colour artwork was used in the players' book, but it was printed on newsprint. At least it was well bound, though. The narrator's book was stapled newsprint, and printed in black, white and orange! You needed special dice and cards, but while you got the dice, you had to photocopy the cards from the narrator's book.

Sometime after this game was produced, West End Games vanished from the scene.

The Games

Surprisingly, this game was supported, although nowhere near as well as the DC Heroes games. Supplements were produced for Metropolis, Gotham City, the JLA and the JSA. These supplements added extra rules (Metropolis gave rules for powersuits, Gotham City rules for natural disasters, JLA rules for building teams). While these rules were not necessary, they were welcome. The supplements also gave you more cards to photocopy.

On the Shelf

And it stayed there.
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