History of Superhero RPGs (Part Five 2005-2007)
Lowell Francis
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GM OF TWO WORLDS
I’ve talked about this before but I wonder: how many gamers actually play games in published “settings.” Let’s leave aside settings presented in particular corebooks- like Earthdawn’s Barsaive, Aberrant’s Nova-filled Near Future, or Cyberpunk’s Night City. Let’s also leave out licensed world books or historical ones. I’m thinking about new settings presented for an existing system. So for example TSR’s Planescape, Pelgrane’s Bookhounds of London, or Mongoose’s Cthonian Stars. Or to more specifically to my subject- Necessary Evil for Savage Worlds, Paragons for Mutants & Masterminds, or eCollapse for Wild Talents.

I ask because I’ve always built my own supers campaign worlds. I’ve been running my hodge-podge, multi-property Firstwave: Year One campaign online for two years. It borrows from many sources but is a completely new beast. Before that I ran the NO:LA Nightwatch campaign I’ve posted about. Then there was the Arkham Harbor, an all-women team in a supernatural world; Bloodlines, which offered a setting with only hereditary and genetic powers; Frontline ,which had strong government enforcement and control; Saviors which offered street level heroes in a world which had once had superbeings. I have several others, but I don’t think I’ve ever run straight from a setting sourcebook. I’ve borrowed characters and organizations, but I’ve never taken a published supers setting’s key premise.

And I don’t think I’m alone in this. Most of the superhero GMs posting online seem to build their own worlds (like Barking Alien and Armchair Gamer). Now that’s a purely anecdotal observation, but I wonder if we ways to study that. One means might be to track how many of these supplemental settings actually get solid support and expansion. The three I mentioned in the first paragraph have respectively gotten a reprint, a module, and nothing. While I’ve seen many fantasy campaign settings arrive and go nowhere, I’ve also seen several spawn rabid followings like Midnight or Forgotten Realms. I’m hard pressed to point to a superhero setting, not tied directly to a core system, which has had multiple and substantial supplements. In this case I’m particularly not talking about numerous small pdfs or villain/organization books which happen to be set in that universe. If that is true, I wonder why that happen? What actually sells for superhero games? And why do we continue to get new settings books: Are they thought experiments? Are they just house campaigns written up for vanity? Do they sell to GMs looking for source material? Or am I wrong and these settings are getting serious and consistent play?

TIMELINE
Wikipedia Year in Comics 2006; Year in Sales
Wikipedia Year in Comics 2007; Year in Sales
Events: Infinite Crisis, House of M, Captain Atom: Armageddon, Civil War, 52, Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America, One Year Later. Amazons Attack, World War Hulk, Countdown to Final Crisis, Sinestro Corps War, Annihilation, Annihlation: Conquest, Messiah CompleX
Television: Justice League Unlimited, Power Rangers Dino Thunder, Venture Brothers, Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!, Aquaman (Pilot), legion of Super Heroes, Heroes, Power rangers Operation Overdrive, El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera, Blood+, Painkiller Jane, Bionic Woman
Films: Elektra, Constantine, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, Fantastic Four, Sky High (!), Blood Rayne, Ultraviolet, V for Vendetta, X-Men: The Last Stand, Superman Returns, My Super Ex-Girlfriend (uuuuuughhhh), Ghost Rider, TMNT, Spider Man 3, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

TIMELINE: VIDEO GAMES
There's some great stuff arriving during this time. Marvel gives us several striking games: Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects, X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, Ultimate Spider-Man, and Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer. There's some shovelware there as well (Ghost Rider (PS2)) and an interesting option with the Marvel Trading Card Game. Perhaps the most cool is Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. DC doesn't fare nearly as well: Batman Begins, Justice League Heroes, and a couple of others. But outside of the big two, several cool games saw release. Freedom Force vs The 3rd Reich and City of Villains before expands their franchises, while Crackdown tries (and fails) to build a brand.

TIMELINE: BOARD GAMES
For this assessment, I want to restrict my analysis to core board games which came out in this period and actually show up in the rankings. That makes for a short list. The highest rank of 2005 is Super Munchkin (#2165). But we also saw the City of Heroes CCG, Gangs of Mega-City One (corner case), Villainy: The Supervillainous Card Game, and Batman Begins: Shadow Assault. In 2006 the highest ranked is a strong licensed game, Marvel Heroes coming in at 1130. That year also saw Capes & Cowls: The Superhero Board Game, Super Munchkin 2: The Narrow S Cape, Scene It? Marvel Deluxe, HeroCard Champion of New Olympia, and Marvel Heroes Battle Dice. Finally 2007's highest rank superhero-themed board game is Heroscape Marvel: The Conflict Begins at #686. After that there's no other non-expansion superhero themed board game with a ranking.

These lists cover a smaller slice of time than my past rpg lists. I hope this makes them easier to read. I include mostly core books, but also significant setting or sourcebooks. Given the number of great things published I haven't included everything I wanted to. I list revised editions which significantly changed a line. Generally I only include published material- print or electronic. I leave out freebie or self-published games. I'm sure I've left something off without adequate reason; feel free to add a comment about a line I missed (if published from 2005-2007). I've arranged these in by year and then alphabetically within that year.

History of Superhero RPGs (Part One 1978-1985)
History of Superhero RPGs (Part Two: 1986-1996)
History of Superhero RPGs (Part Three 1997-2001)
History of Superhero RPGs (Part Four 2002-2004)
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1. RPG Item: Capes [Average Rating:6.59 Overall Rank:3352]
Lowell Francis
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(2005) What a great year for new approaches to superhero games. Capes is a GM-less player-driven supers game. The shared narration gets passed around, with players trying to twist and tweak the story for their compatriots. A story goes until there's a conflict which goes to the rules for arbitration. It also has a token-based resource system, used as a currency for buying control. Capes focuses on a particular supers question: "Power is fun, but do you deserve it?". To play off that, characters accumulate Debt, which measures the difference between how much they've proved their worth and how much they've actually done so. As loose as that may feel, the game actually offers an interesting character creation system. Players select a Power Set and a Persona. These cleverly fit together and then the player makes a few additional selections, resulting in a final set of stats. If you're a fan of supers and like indie games or GM-less games, you need to pick up a copy of this. Having gone back through it again, I realize I really need to put a Play-by-VoiP session of this together.

Set-Pick Character Creation. d6 Resolution.
 
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2. RPG Item: Quickplay Pack [Average Rating:4.00 Unranked]
Lowell Francis
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(2005) Disclaimer: I was sort of involved with this game, but at a distance. I had a friend who worked for Eden Studios when they got the license to City of Heroes. That made sense as the zombie baddies in the game took their name from one of the AFMBE creators. It seemed like a smart fit as the MMO had broken the mold and grabbed players attention. My friend asked me to sit on a couple of play sessions to get ready for con demonstrations. The game worked OK- in part because we only played with the end results: character sheets with clear power explanations. We'd also played a chunk of Unisystem and so got the basics quickly. When we looked at the demo module- included in the quick-start pack- we decided it wouldn't work well for conventions. So I came up with a new concept, built on a fight-investigation-death trap-final fight structure. I wrote that up, Derek massaged it and that's what we used at Origins, GenCon, and other conventions to show the game off.

Mind you, I never played City of Heroes the MMO when I wrote the adventure. Plus we didn't have access to a version of the final rules for the rpg. Still things went off well. But then the game never actually appeared. All we got was this demo pack some time later. Again, the excellent Shanya Almafeta has a really spot-on review of it you can read here: City of Heroes: A Compare-And-Contrast Review. Eventually I did see a nearly finished version of the CoH tabletop rules. These were faithful to a fault- an incredibly literal and mechanical translation of the computer game's mechanics to Unisystem. I wouldn't have been my supers game of choice, but it never saw full publication. Another piece of Eden Studios vaporware, Beyond Human, originally seemed to be the supers sourcebook for Unisystem. However while it covers parahuman powers, it isn't a superhero game. Instead the settings and details on offer go in completely different directions. That still hasn't been published, but the nearly complete version I saw years ago was really interesting and a worthwhile addition to Unisystem...and nothing like City of Heroes.

No CC. Various dice resolution.
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3. RPG Item: GODSEND Agenda [Average Rating:6.50 Unranked]
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(2005) GODSEND Agenda doesn't do the greatest job of selling its unique setting. Checking around on the website and the RPGNow blurbs only gets you part of the story- a supers game with some mystical characters perhaps? BTW there will be some modest spoilers in this overview. The secrets of the setting may be why Khepera Publishing doesn't go into too much details. Basically modern super battles reflect an age-old battle between aliens and heroes with ancient historical links and legacies (think Nephilim or Fireborn). The history and background is crazy wild- and as one RPG Net review points out, can be used in any time period. It you're looking for a complete supers setting with a heavy weird mystical bent, GODSEND's a pretty good choice.

The game itself uses the D6 system (of D6 Powers and Star Wars (WEG 2nd Edition)). If you're comfortable with those mechanics, you may like this game. It ends up a reasonably light game system, probably closest to Savage Worlds. Khepera also published a GODSEND Agenda Superlink Conversion and GODSEND Agenda d20 Modern Conversion, so if you're intrigued by the setting but not the system, you have some options. There's also a Quick Start version of the rules you can download.

Point buy. d6 Pool Resolution.
 
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4. RPG Item: Living Legends [Average Rating:6.17 Unranked]
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(2006) Despite Fantasy Games Unlimited folding in 1991, Villains & Vigilantes managed to retain a significant following among superhero gamers. In the 1990’s I knew of several groups who had stuck with the system, sometimes returning to it after trying Champions. V&V co-creator (and legendary rpg artist) Jeff Dee took his experiences with that system and created Living Legends. It borrows some concepts from the earlier system, but elaborates on key mechanics including resolution, the power lists, and effect measures. Living Legends provides mechanics for point-buy character generation as well as random. Early editions of LL had some problems, but the most recent (v1.2) seems cleaned up. The publisher, Monkey House Games, would later issue a revised version of V&V. They’ve worked hard to make support products compatible between both games. As a result, Living Legends has a deep backlist of modules and organization books.

Point buy or random character generation. Various dice for resolution.
 
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5. RPG Item: Mutants & Masterminds [Average Rating:7.36 Overall Rank:291]
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(2005) I came to M&M 1e a little late in the product cycle. I quickly picked up everything out for it and ran two different campaigns. It wasn't perfect, but it did what I wanted and you could find a decent Excel-based character generator for it. Then Green Ronin published the second edition...not too long after releasing a major sourcebook for 1e- Gimmick's Guide To Gadgets- which the new rules completely invalidated. I was a little irritated. I'd invested in many M&M Superlink pdf products as well. I put off buying into the 2e for a little while...but I really wanted to see what changes they'd made and I eventually broke down. So yeah, I liked it. In fact I kind of loved it. It cleaned up many of the mechanics and moved it further away from the original d20 sources. Now it felt like a game which stood on its own.

Not that it doesn't have problems. Some powers have really cost problems given their actual power at the table (some Immunities, Possession, Obscure). My frined Gene objects to the Strength table values and the sheer number of possible conditions. The time/distance system can be wonky and uisng it with a tactical map often doesn't work. But despite that creakiness, I like the way it plays. I like the looseness and balance. overall I like the feel and speed. I talk more extensively about that in this post from a couple years back. M&M 2e remains my go to superhero game- just so you know my bias in this listing. I'm currently running a Roll 20 online campaign with it. I did buy a copy of the 3rd edition, but I traded it away...but that's a story for a later list.

Point-Buy. D20 Resolution
 
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6. RPG Item: Truth & Justice [Average Rating:6.96 Overall Rank:2880]
Lowell Francis
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2005 Truth & Justice uses the PDQ or Prose Descriptive Qualities system. I've written about other games using that Zorcerer of Zo and Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies. The simple system lends itself to a story focus and T&J game plays on that. It begins with an extensive discussion of the tone, scale, and style of supers campaigns. It's a useful discussion- but veteran supers GMs may find themselves skimming through.

The game uses a pick system, with players choosing character elements including powers. Most of these connect to a Quality which has a value added to die roll checks. T&J includes a list of superpowers, nicely done and open-ended. It straddles the middle ground between completely abstract and restrictive. The system also uses a Hero Points mechanic- with connections to successful heroic actions and playing out character conflicts. Overall gamers will find a light approach to superheroes. I'd say closest to the difficulty of any of the Marvel Supers systems. The core book includes a number of interesting campaign frames as well. Truth & Justices has gotten decent support, with a couple of supplemental books (Truth & Justice: More Power, Dial S for Superhumans). As well other companies have published T&J versions of existing supers products- Legends Walk! (Truth & Justice Edition) and Adventures into Darkness (Truth & Justice / PDQ).

Set Pick. d6 Resolution

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7. RPG Item: Villainy Amok [Average Rating:8.14 Overall Rank:2945]
Lowell Francis
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(2005) It may be just another supplement for Champions 5, but I have to call out Villainy Amok on this list. If you run superhero campaigns, you ought to buy a copy of this. It offers a sourcebook for crimes, capers, adventures, and campaigns. Each of the early chapters takes a classic supers trope (Natural Disasters, Superhero Wedding, Shrunken Characters) and examines how to run them, twists & turns, and links to other stories. While sometimes it spins out into Hero mechanics, the base ideas are system agnostic enough to make it hugely useful. The end chapters present lists of hooks and ways to muck around with the PCs' limitations and disadvantages. I'd like to see more books like this for supers and other genres. I've seen a few fantasy supplements covering narrow topics, but those more often end up offering specific adventures rather than a toolbox for gamemasters. I think a modern or sci-fi book of fallback stories examined could be quite useful. I've written a little more extensively about Villainy Amok in this post.
 
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8. RPG Item: With Great Power... [Average Rating:6.97 Overall Rank:2900]
Lowell Francis
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(2005) With Great Power... describes itself as a melodramatic superhero game. WGP focuses on bringing a character's issues to bear and explore those through play. The game plays out through Conflict scenes- where multiple characters face off in attempt to drive the story and Enrichment scenes- where a character looks as character aspects and examines how the situation and challenges have affected them. The game uses standard playing cards for resolution, with the players sharing a common hero deck. The rules also encourage players to verbalize what their character is thinking- suggesting the use of a thought balloon prop to reflect this. It seems gimmicky, but I can imagine that being a great deal of fun. That's a light contrast to the heavier discussion of dramatic situations and play we see in the opening chapter.

Characters begin by defining a key conflict for your character (authority vs. freedom; justice vs. vengeance, etc). Players then explain what they excel in, which can include powers; their character's motive; and their relationships. These make up aspects which serve as the basis of Enrichment scenes. A series of additional questions flesh out the characters background and focus. The system's loose and highly narrative. For all that, I wouldn't call this a light system. It offers some challenging structures- both in terms of rules systems and play structures. If you're interested in unusual storytelling games or want to see an unusual drama focused superhero game, you should check this one out.

Question-based character generation. Card-based resolution.

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9. RPG Item: BASH! [Average Rating:5.88 Overall Rank:6718]
Lowell Francis
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(2006) The original BASH- Basic Action Superheroes- is a short, quick--play system. Character shave three attributes, skills, advantages/disads, and a set of points to buy powers. The list on offer in the first book is eclectic- and perhaps a little odd. While the whole thing feels more than a little threadbare, the resolution system's pretty easy- based on compared 2d6 (with doubles exploding). it would be really easy to dismiss BASH given the layout, art, design, and general messiness. However in the years since, the published has continued to support the line and published supplements, including BASH! Ultimate Edition which is about four times the length of the original. That got an ENnie Awards nomination in 2010. There's a lot to look at in the line: Fantasy & Sci versions, modules, villain collections, and powers books.

Point buy. d6 Resolution.
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10. RPG Item: D6 Powers [Average Rating:8.50 Unranked]
Lowell Francis
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(2006) I never played any of the old WEG games, not even Star Wars. I read the rules but never got a chance to actually try them out. Its a system that gets a lot of love, despite a mixed history of companies supporting it. This book covers two bases- serving as both a generic sourcebook for d6 games and a power supplement for GODSEND Agenda (discussed on the previous list). Setting specific elements are carefully marked in the text- an example of good editorial choices. It also has...wait, wait. I have to say this once again: if you're going to put a background element on your pages- watermark, illustration, cityscape outline...PLEASE MAKE IT AS SUBTLE AS POSSIBLE. Alternately, make it easy to turn off. D6 Powers isn't the worst offender in this category- but it wore on me the more I went through the book.

D6 Powers does exactly what it needs to. It opens with light suggestions and discussions of how players create supers characters- with decent examples and advice. Advantages & Disadvantages come next which says something about how you're supposed to think about your character. A large selection of powers follows, the significant gadgets rules, new combat options, and finally some templates for character types. I really like the way the game inserts commentary and advice with each section. Red Text talks about the implications of different items and how a GM or player might manage them. This is a great sourcebook for the d6 System and a useful sourcebook for homebrewers looking for some supers rules to adapt.

Point buy. d6 Pool Resolution.
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11. RPG Item: Hearts & Souls [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Lowell Francis
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(2006) There's a period, perhaps from the early 2000's through almost the next decade when we got a slew of new amateur press rpgs with the same problem. The designers had enthusiasm, interesting new approaches, and access to new DTP tools. However they didn't have experience with those tools or with layout in general. That resulted in many, many hard to read games- with jammed & difficult to read text design. Hearts & Souls is hard going. It has some interesting ideas. It makes a character's Drive central to them- giving them access to rerolls. Stress triggers offers a new approach to weaknesses. It also offers a relatively simple system for tracking character stats. Other elements I'm not as sure about- especially things like the Monologue mechanics. The game has powers and attributes, but players assign qualitative values to them as they wish. there's no point or parity system in the main rules. The power list consists of a little over a dozen on a couple of pages. Most of the core book consists of general GM advice and setting pitches. The problem is that H&S doesn't make a compelling case why it should be the go to light supers system over any others. In fact it feels more like a GM's home campaign with a tacked on system.

Freeform character generation. Various dice resolution.
 
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12. RPG Item: Humanydyne [Average Rating:9.00 Unranked]
Lowell Francis
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(2006) A French rpg, Cubicle 7 apparently published an English softcover in 2011- but they don't have that available as a pdf. Instead you can buy the French 112 page electronic version for $20 (marked down from $40!). On the other hand, that English version may in fact be mythical. While some retailers (like Amazon) have an entry for it, others show it as a cancelled product. That's too bad as it looks like an interesting concept. Some describe it as post-apocalptic, but it looks more dark future (ala Transmetropolitan). Players apparently take the role of agents trying to maintain some balance between humanity and superbeings. That reminds me a little of The Boys as well, but this seems more cyberpunk and less testosterone.

????
 
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13. RPG Item: Legends Walk! [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Lowell Francis
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(2006) A mythic superheroes game in the vein of the later Scion system and GODSEND Agenda. The characters have been chosen by a pantheon which grants them specific powers. Legends Walk! uses a simple resolution system- closer to Fate or Marvel than Champions or even V&V. While the game offers some optional complications, players will find the basic system rich enough. The core book presents a fully-fleshed out setting. It gives a near-future world which has been shaped by the emergence of the super-powered bearers of mythic force. Imagine a superhero universe where the only characters were like Wonder Woman or Thor. Players have to balance their choices with the demands and restrictions of their pantheons. Silver Branch has published several supplements with new characters and pantheons. As well they've released a version of the game using the Truth & Justice rules.

List pick character creation. d6 Pool resolution.
 
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14. RPG Item: To Be A Hero [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Lowell Francis
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(2006) A superhero setting sourcebook for d20. It feels like a long house campaign setting mixed together with a splatter of new d20 mechanics. I'm not a big d20 person, but usually I can tell when some thought and care has gone into the mechanical adaptation. There's an effort to clarify the changes, to make any new sub-systems clear, and to explain what the game's adding to the d20 basics. Then there's everything else which takes d20 mastery as a given and shovelwares more rules onto the page. TBaH feels like the latter. I'm also more than a little annoyed by the trace art here- clearly lifted from the Justice League cartoon. Only recommended for the most die-hard d20 fans.

Level and class. Various dice resolution.
 
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15. RPG Item: Wild Talents (1st Edition) [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:1552]
Lowell Francis
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South Bend
Indiana
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(2006) Wild Talents takes the superhero rules presented in Godlike and brings them into a modern setting. It further refines the One Roll Engine mechanics used in the system (and in games like Reign). Interestingly, Wild Talents was among the earliest 'crowdfunded' rpgs- resulting in a heavy hardcover edition. The game retains the complexity and depth of the original Godlike game. It is closer to Champions or GURPS Supers than Mutants & Masterminds or any flavor of Marvel. Some of that complexity comes from the granulairty and some from the potential scale of the game. That's at least my impression from working through it. I've heard other opinions.

Wild Talents also builds on Godlike's setting. It offers a campaign frame which details the history from post-WW2 to the present day. It offers a new mechanic where GMs define worlds on several axes: Morality, Super Being Influence on History, and Weirdness. That's a neat way to break down settings. I makes it easy to look at later Wild Talent setting supplements and get a feel for the play. Later Arc Dream would revise Wild Talents with an Essential Edition covering just the key rules and a full 2nd Edition which includes the setting material.

Point Buy. d10 Pool Resolution.
 
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Lowell Francis
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South Bend
Indiana
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As with some of the other lists in this series, I've consolidated the corner-case Pulp Hero games into one entry. Pulp Era: Cinematic Adventures in the Yesteryear! is a revision of a much earlier free rpg product, heavily expanded. It definitely covers the domino-mask wearing crimefighter. It seems to have had a wide distribution as a trade paperback. The blurb line describes it as a game that covers that territory, but with a Tarrantino twist. Not sure what that means. Better known perhaps is Spirit of the Century which IIRC offers the first approach to the modern FATE system. Definitely more light and cinematic, SotC gives plenty of options for science heroes and vigilantes. Evil Hat has since played up this universe with other games. Two-Fisted Tales Revised took home and Ennie nomination for best writing in 2008. The original appeared in 2003, but this revision knocks it out of the park. It offers a great overview of the genre, a solid bibliography, and uses public domain art of the era appropriately. The game has some crunch, but isn't especially difficult. Characters can have powers or power-like effects through mustical training, gadgets, or actual spells. That can be tuned by the GM for distinct genre types. Definitely a useful resource for any GM wanting to run a pulp game.
 
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17. RPG Item: 4C System [Average Rating:6.20 Overall Rank:7248]
Lowell Francis
United States
South Bend
Indiana
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(2007) One of the first old-school superhero clones and another early crowdfunded product. The 4C system offers a basic engine for play, but encourages other publishers to build on it. Basically, 4C rebuilds the FASERIP mechanics from Marvel Super Heroes. This core engine can then be used to play out many different games. 4C includes significant material on superpowers as you might imagine. But the whole thing only comes in at 32 pages and can be downloaded for free. If you liked FASERIP and want to give it another spin, you can't go wrong with this. Given the price of Marvel Supers old stuff (especially MA3: The Ultimate Powers Book) 4C is a better option. If you don't know the original game, you still might look at it as a quick and simple superhero game with some cool options for integrating personality and play.

Random generation. Percentile resolution.
 
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18. RPG Item: Gestalt: The Hero Within (HERO 5E edition) [Average Rating:9.00 Unranked]
Lowell Francis
United States
South Bend
Indiana
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(2007) Designer Scott Bennnie has done a ton of amazing work. He's made amazing contributions to superhero gaming across several systems. I think some people asusme 'superhero' as an rpg genre doesn't have the dynamism of something like fantasy or sci-fi. But setting books like this, Underground, and Aberrant prove that wrong. They put a new spin on the genre- sometimes with massive changes and sometimes with simple shifts to the initial premise. Often it begins with the question of origin.

In this massive world book superbeings are literally archetypes. Called Gestalts, they represent a key concept, ideal, or symbol. In most cases a person becomes bonded to a concept and gains powers- for better or worse. The world book presents these ideas and the setting arising from it in over 300 pages of detail. Its pretty massive and thorough. It aims for a more serious approach, but not necessarily a dark one. It reminds me a little of the early days of Marvel's Ultimate lines. GtHW offers many ideas and characters, but these are often deeply embedded in the background and setting. GM's looking for a complete new setting may be interested in it as well as those who like to strip-mine background books. It exists in several versions including ones for HERO system and Mutants & Masterminds 2e.
 
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19. RPG Item: GURPS Supers (Third Edition) [Average Rating:6.77 Overall Rank:3314]
Lowell Francis
United States
South Bend
Indiana
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(2007) Earlier on these lists I mentioned my groups reaction to GURPS Supers. We loved and played GURPS but really disliked the earlier attempts at modelling superheroes within the mechanics. Several times we came back and looked at it, but gave up. By the time this edition of GURPS Supers came out, we'd migrated completely away from GURPS. I read through it and the earlier GURPS Powers. Powers covers more of the rules and mechanics for handling superpowers. Like other genre-focused supplements for the new GURPS 4e line, this book instead offers more of sourcebook for running these campaigns. It gives some new mechanics (new powers, other approaches to character builds) but last third of the book discusses campaign, superhero universes, and modelling these elements in GURPS. The books still has a lot of rules, so GMs looking for a more open or generic sourcebook may be disappointed.

Point buy. d6 Resolution.
 
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20. RPG Item: Guardian Universe II: Power Overwhelming [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Lowell Francis
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South Bend
Indiana
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(2007) While it has gotten better in recent years, I loathe CG artwork in rpgs. Many, many games throw you into the Uncanny Canyon. I dread some publishers because of this. I'm not saying every piece of art in GUII is bad, but there's some serious nightmare fuel. Combine that with a think watermarked gutters, dense text design, and tomato red callout boxes and you have a book which you have to slog through. The book itself weirdly assumes the players know the world of the previous Guardian Universe game, and then completely blows that away. From there it doesn't do much to tell you what you're actually doing in the game or how it differs from other supers rpgs. Clearly there's an interstellar feel- but you have to get far into the book before you have any sense of what's going on. Character generation is random for the most part. Beyond that, the organization of the book makes the rules hard to follow. It does have an index, but that's small comfort.

Random generation. Percentile and d10 based (I think)
 
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21. RPG Item: Paragons [Average Rating:7.45 Overall Rank:2203]
Lowell Francis
United States
South Bend
Indiana
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(2007) Mutants & Masterminds 2e came with a built-in setting, the world of Freedom City. This echoed Champions' approach with 4e and beyond. Interestingly the M&M world shifted between 1e and 2e, with certain characters and elements excised out. I think this has to do with the original developer group leaving or being removed from the project. That's too bad as that meant cutting some cool ideas. On the other hand, Paragons is a completely new setting. It aims for two design goals. On the one hand it wants to be flexible for GMs. On the other it wants a "realistic" approach which places superbeings in a real world setting. On those Paragons has mixed success.

Don't get me wrong- this is a dynamite book. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in supers gaming. It has great resources in the form of characters, story seeds, and GM techniques. However it doesn't have quite as many dials as it could. The GM can tune the source of power outbreaks, specifics of the initial events, and some other details. But the book takes as given much more- societal impacts, organizations, and what the power structures look like. I wish Paragon's had some more wide-ranging options in the chapters, but I wonder if that wouldn't be an entirely different book. The "realistic" approach it goes for, on the other hand, doesn't work. It feels most other superhero settings: lots of superbeings, weird organizations, superbeing bars, etc. It has all of those trappings. It certainly isn't a Year One setting book. While it does address some of the implications of supers to the real world, it doesn't feel any more realistic than the backdrop of Aberrant or the Champions Universe, at least to me. I think that's more a question of a book which tries to offer something for every GM. Paragons may not do exactly what it sets out to, but it remains a highly recommended supers supplement.

On the flip side of "realism", I also point to another Green Ronin supplement from this period: Iron Age. That tries to emulate the feel of comics from the mid-80's to mid-90's when men had pouches, spines arched, muscles bulged, and no one had feet. That's a fun read and also worth picking up.
 
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22. RPG Item: Scion: Hero [Average Rating:7.08 Overall Rank:585]
Lowell Francis
United States
South Bend
Indiana
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(2007) Some might consider this a corner case, but it really feels like a superhero game to me. You have a modern setting, characters who have discovered they have special powers, and battles against the forces of evil. Sure you have all the mythic trappings and details, but we see the same thing in characters like Thor and Wonder Woman. Eventually the game line moves from high powered adventure to earth-shaking struggles, but if you've read any of Jack Kirby's work or even Grant Morrison's various heroes as new gods stuff, then you know the template.

The first book of the Scion line, Hero's is pretty awesome. It sets up the concept well and offers lots of choices for the players. It borrows the base system from Exalted 2e- complete with the battle wheel. That makes sense and the game's share a feeling. The way the system handles epics (borrowed a little from Aberrant) works decently. The system though, has a couple of problems. Some effects and aspects are simply much more powerful than others. In particular, speed is the end all and be all of the system. Beyond that the combat can be slow with significant downtime for players. Most importantly, once you get to the highest power rank of the Hero book things get crazy. The sheer numbers of dice, the necessary level of the opposition, what the characters can do to normal human are all crazy. And that's just the first of several arcs- with later books getting even more potent.

Still I'd recommend the first book (as well as portions of the Scion Companion). The ideas and details there could easily be adapted to your supers system of choice. The concept of Fatebinding, where NPCs who interact with the PCs get knotted up in their stories is worth stealing. Really, really worth stealing.

Point and pick character generation. d10 pool resolution.
 
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23. RPG Item: The Supercrew [Average Rating:8.94 Overall Rank:2255]
Lowell Francis
United States
South Bend
Indiana
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(2007) A light-hearted supers game presented in a comic book format. Originally from Sweden, it received a later English-language version. In the game players play themselves. In the middle of a game session, they're called away to assume their secret identities as heroes. The game uses a hyper-simple stat and resolution system. Overall it looks light a fun and light-hearted superhero game with unique art.

Random generation. d6 Resolution.
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