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Game Chef 2009

Some additional comments on ‘Supes

By Game Chef 2009

I somewhat cross-posted at Nerdnyc and here are some additional comments i received:

Super Hero RPGs are weird for me. I sometimes want crazy amounts of details in character creation. How fast I can run? How much can I lift? How do I measure up relative to other superheroes? But in play I don’t care about any of that. In play I want a soap opera. But I like the first part as well.

I agree with ET that there is a wide spectrum of Super Hero story. I’d also play The Avengers very differently than Spiderman. That being said, I prefer my games to run faster and have more stuff happen than the typical comic issue. Comics seem to drag things on forever given the format. But that’s my personal taste.

My two favorite Superhero RPG’s are Hero System 4th / 5th Edition (Champions) and DC HEROES (3rd Edition I think). Mutants and Masterminds is up there as well.

I like the crunchy bits and fiddling with powers. I think the idea is not to emulate comic books, but to craft a system where people with superpowers can pull off superpowered shit. Too much in superhero comics depend on the writer and editorial oversight and it doesn’t really lend itself to group storytelling very well in terms of emulating the genre accurately. I’m not saying that with a really plugged in DM that it cant be done, it can. I’ve played in a DC Heroes game that operated with a slightly changed version of the DC Universe in the late 80′ early 90’s and it was great despite me being a Marvel guy. But it’s not something that can be treated with the casual disdain that is common among people when the word “superheroes” are mentioned

Yeah, I think when you run a superhero game you really need to set the tone in advance of what your players are to expect. Because even within the history of a particular group there are changes in tone that are pretty drastic. Giffen – DeMatteis Justice league is very different in tone compared to Morrison or Waid Justice League. An even better example is the shift in tone from the Levitz Legion of Super-Heroes to the Giffen – Bierbaum “Five Years later” Legion of Super-Heroes.

What I liked about WGP, when I played it, was how it emphasized the hero in terms of his moral stance, not his powers. I also loved seeing translations of characters to this system.

I also like being above the game a bit in terms of how you perceive the comic adventure, and taking part in and witnessing the villain’s subplots makes it a million times more interesting than sitting down to play a Marvel module (which was painful, from my experiences)

I think I would like a Superhero game with the character creation of With Great Power, power creation of Mutants and Masterminds, soap opera aspect of With Great Power, and combat of Dogs in the Vineyard.

pacing & player flags of WGP + char-gen of Marvel Super Heroes + combat of D&D 4e (somewhat simpler and faster)

Thats the thing I really liked about WGP (and Capes), too. What I’ve realized in supers games is that as much fun as all the powers are, the truth is that in comic books, the powers are kind of incidental. The real stories happen around the human element, the relationships between the characters and he heroes dealing with morality and their own personal demons. The truth is, in most comics, the heroes can literally do anything; if it’s their own book, they will find a way to beat their adversary no matter what. Like, lets say Batman and Superman fight. If it happens in a Batman book (and it has), Batman wins. If it happens in a Superman book, Superman wins. Heroes DO fail occasionally (Spidey failing to save Gwen Stacy, for example), but its always either a temporary setback, or a springboard to explore the effects of that failure on the hero’s psyche.

If I’m playing Power Man, I think it would be more fun for me to be able to get lucky (or unlucky) in a fight vs. the hulk than to know the outcome definitively by comparing strength scores.

So for me, I don’t find the powers the interesting or dramatic part from a roleplaying standpoint… in my mind they should be pretty much act as color, while the action should revolve around the heroes making difficult choices as to how and when they use those powers.

I get a big kick out the battles and the events that lead up to the battles, for me it’s the whole reason to run a supers game. Building up to the envitable showdown is pure AWESOME.

Aberrant is still my favorite super-hero RPG and I st ill look for these things that it did so well in other Superhero RPGs:

– Created a very, very strong mythology about why superheroes exist, how their vastly separate and uniquely customizable powers work and then tied it into the system
– Created a world where there was little cannon and no predetermined expectation from existing demi-gods like Superman or Thor and allowed characters to occupy those places in play if they could get powerful enough
– Lent a real crunchy feel to combat and power mix-maxing which I enjoy and scaled the game well allowing for Batman like characters and Superman like characters to exist simultaneously and effectively in play
– The setting had a vast variety of political stories running simultaneously and the PCs could ignore or interact with them at any point
– Incorporated the media and its fascination with superheroes as a big element in the game
– Provided plenty of superheroic hooks in the game and gave vast latitude for allowing the PCs to mold the world

I may be backpedaling a little here, but I don’t think that the superpowers should be just window dressing. I mean, they are essential, otherwise you’re not really playing a superhero game, right? I just think that they’re better represented broadly than crunchy; like, if I was going to play the human torch, I think it would be more fun to say “my guy creates/manipulates fire and can fly” rather than saying “he has 20 points in fire manipulation, 30 points in firebolt, 45 points in fireball, etc., etc.”

The point I was trying to make is that regardless of the “scale” of their powers, superheroes can all potentially overcome the same obstacles. Superman has saved the world, but so has Batman – and yet they’re on completely different ends of the scale, if you put it in terms of your average RPG bilities chart. So it has to be about something more than just power. In most comic books, it comes down to character; be it morality, or perseverence, heart, whatever the writer decides is at the core of the hero. I think that works really well in RPGs too.

Exuberance I can take or leave. I’m not a huge fan of the golden/silver age. I prefer the age I grew up with; gritty and grim. Action is a big part of it, though… I wouldn’t want to play a supers game without any fights.

Banter is really important… theres a lot of back-and-forth in most comic book fights. Part of it is to make the action flow better in what is essentially a series of snapshots, but Spiderman wouldn’t work nearly as well if he was just throwing punches and kicks. Even Batman, in the darkest renditions of the character, bantered with his foes during fights.

Another element is that even with all these lethal, sometimes world-destroying powers being slung back and forth, deaths are relatively rare (at least for major characters).
Villians escape at the last minute fairly often; something that can often feel like a cheat in games like D&D. Even when the villain is soundly defeated, he’s usually brought to justice rather than killed outright.