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How Superhero games are different.
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  Click here to go to the first special guest post in this thread.   Thread: How Superhero games are different.

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    How Superhero games are different.

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    superhero games are different from other kinds of R.P.G.s in a number of ways. People used to playing science fiction, swords and sorcery or online games might bring to this game certain misconceptions that will make it difficult to really get the feel of Superheroes. So lets discuss some of these differences.

    Who needs Motivation ? : Most role playing games, including superhero games, dedicate a chapter to character motivation. Usually they offer a selection of several motivations that, actually encourage conflicts between players. It's true that Superheroes come from a variety of backgrounds and have a variety of reasons for putting on silly costumes, but once they put on their costumes, all Superheroes are driven by 2 purposes: to protect the innocent and fight evil. These 2 purposes are enough to bring them together for every mission again and again, despite any personal, tactical or even moral differences.

    Splitting up is good. : Despite conflicts, encouraged by the rules, most games still insist that playersstick together and always act as a team, (presumably to make it easier on the GM) But Superheroes are often loaners. My best memories of gaming were times when I was alone with the GM or GMing a single player. Often a superhero's methods flow naturally from his abilities. One hero might rush in letting bullets bounce off him, while another might want to sneak in and take the guards out one at a time. These heroes will find it difficult to work together, unless the first hero acts as a distraction (and even then, they'll be splitting up). Splitting up lets each player face his own challenges, and be the star of his own part of the show. Ultimately splitting up might even save time because fights will be smaller and take less time to run. Plus with long range communication powers like telepathy, there is no need to separate players just because the characters are separated. Finally once the heroes locate the boss enemy, they'll usually want to get back together as soon as they can (unless one of them wants to challenge the villain to a chess match).

    We don't need no stinkin treasure ! : In most role playing games, the main goal and reward for anadventure will be treasure of some kind. As soon as a barbarian and his buddies kill a wizard they loot his body, and start searching for his treasure room. Superheroes are different. Not only are they not out for treasure, but even if a fantastic treasure just falls into their lap they wont take it ! If you beat Overmaster Vlaad, you don't put on his armor, even if it would really help you, you just don't do it. You get rid of it, or destroy it instead, presumably hoping it will never be seen again, even though, as a player, you know that the GM Will bring it back if he wants to. This is role playing the genre.

    We don't go for the kill. : Many Superheroes & villains have powers and abilities far beyond those of normal weapons of mass destruction, but they don't use their powers in that way. A super strong hero, if you really think about it, could easily pop a normal person's head like a pimple. If a big monster is causing trouble, some heroes could knock the monster into space, or grab it, fly to the moon and leave it there. No more monster. A hero with magnetic powers should be able to turn an armored villain inside out, instead of just knocking him around. But that's not how Superheroes do things. THIS RULE YOU'LL NEED TO ENFORCE, because if you don't, then the world will be a much more deadly place, and the only thing that can challenge these brutal killing machines, that call themselves heroes, will be equally brutal villains and the death toll will be worse than "Call of Cthulhu" !

    Buildings are not bigger on the inside: In many games, especially computer and video games, theinside of a building and the outside don't fit together, it doesn't matter because the game designer or GM Will tell the players where they start and lead them in the direction they have to go. In a superhero game, the buildings have to make sense because when the hero looks at it from the outside, he will decide if he wants to use the doors, the windows, the skylight, a window on an upper floor, or just smash through the wall, or tunnel up from below. Fortunately : no one is going to critique your buildingplans. It wont matter if you forget to put in closets or bathrooms or if the rooms are too big or toosmall, its just a game, man.And : if you really like making crazy mazes that don't fit into the shape of abuilding just make it underground in caves or tunnels that way it doesn't have to make sense.

    Hero's don't have their own agenda: Online games are about exploring and perusing goals of yourown, while ignoring whatever doesn't appeal to you, or is too low level to get you any rewards, but Superheroes are public servants. They're out to help people not make themselves rich or more powerful. They will fight any villain they hear about, and protect any person in need. But since players aren't going to be perusing their own goals (most of the time.) The GM has a job making sure there is something in each adventure that every player is interested in.
    Power Balancing : In other RPGs the idea is that players should all be about the same power level(this never really works but it's always attempted ) but in a comic book, heroes with no super powers often adventure alongside godlike beings. Instead of trying to make the characters be the same power level each character plays a different role in the story. The GM should make sure that the opponents are also of diverse levels so that each player has an opponent of his own to challenge him. (you might need to make sure that the most powerful ones show up first and jump on their designated foes so that the players' powerhouse doesn't hog all the action.) And if one of the players is supposed to be the brains of the group, make sure there's something for him to figure out.

    Players being villains : If the GM And players are interested in playing a game where the playersor 1 or 2 of the players are villains, then I can't stop you, heck, you might even have a great time doing it, but personally I can't give you any advice on how to make it work. I was never interested in doing it, even when my players were, and if a player started becoming a villain, after playing a while, I considered this a serious problem and usually tried to get his character out of the game as soon as I could. I just couldn't deal with it. The only help i can offer is to suggest that you play City of Villains and look for some ideas there, and watch some of the season 2 and later episodes of the Venture Brothers.

    Encumbrance, Food, Money & Mapping: If you've played a lot of RPGs you're probably already used to ignoring these kinds of useless rules that slow play to a crawl without adding anything to it. Well in this game you don't even have to ignore them, they just aren't there !



    --- Merged from Double Post ---
    The post starting this thread is actually a long quote from my game Super Crusaders RPG. I've posted it here for discussion I hope you'll enjoy it.
    By the way, right now is not a good time to check out my game because I'm working on a new version of it. It wont be ready for a while yet and when it's up a lot of the stuff that's on my site now will be taken down.
    Last edited by Farcaster; 04-26-2010 at 03:57 PM. Reason: Difficult to read formatting.

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    I think you underestimate the variety possible in superhero roleplaying.

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    I think Superhero games are different, at least compared to traditional Fantasy and other genres, in that you start off being powerful, and grow much slower (if at all) so if the game is run right, you can concentrate more on role rather than roll playing. I'm referring to play by post games, where fantasy games generally have you starting at 1st level or equivalent and struggling against a pack of kobolds with slings. That'd be a lot of fun for a while, but the glacial growth rate in PbP games means it may be hard to keep interest without houseruling on advancement. Supers don't have that. You start with the ability to throw cars, fly, blast lasers from eyes, read minds, whatever, so don't have to 'level up' on thugs and minor supervillains. Of course, you could start off a fantasy game as a higher level, but where's the fun in that? How did the character get there? There's no sense of achievement, but there is if you can get a character to say, from 1st to 5th level or equivalent in a fantasy/level advancement type game, as you grow your character from something an Orc could blow over to someone who commands respect from monsters they used to fear.

    Also the attrition rate in supers is low depending on the setting. Other than having the hero humiliated, unmasked, depowered, their families targetted etc, but I can't remember too many times when one of my players had a character killed. As a player I had one killed in an online game, but the GM of that game seemed to be going through the entire groups characters save for a few of his close gaming buddies whilst everyone else knew their time would come sooner or later, or so it felt. The death of the character was meaningless, by another players character (a good guy on the same team, under mind control by the villain) who felt or showed no remorse at all, like they expected it to happen too. Though I'd enjoyed my time in the game, I felt it was a good point to sign off so I left rather than start from scratch and have an underpowered character running with long term developed ones, as I could see the same thing (character death) happening again. Felt like 1st level D&D all over again :S

    So, sometimes Superhero games aren't as different from other games in certain circumstances...

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    Well .. the print on the initial of crazy-small, BUT to hit the topic I'll list a few games and note what I find "different" or "special" about each one's mechanics.

    1) Marvel Super Heroes (TSR) - really cool game with the Karma system - it was the universal "everything" of the game. Rules that penalized heroes for being non-heroic, rules to use it for power *tricks*, rules for gaining power - albeit incredibly slowly!! Really, it seemed to hit a real nice middle-ground for emulating the genre - sudden tricks, problems w/behavior and heroic codes, etc. It also kept power creep extremely low.

    2) Mutants and Masterminds (Green Ronin) - fun game, uses the D20 system to get the broad-base appeal, nice features with "complications" and all that. Pretty fast and variable combat resolution does a pretty solid job at mimicking the times Wolverine gets 1 clunk on the head by the likes of Thing and is out for days, then gets back-handed by the Hulk like 50+ city blocks away and stands up to shake it off.

    3) Silver Age Sentinels (Guardians of Order) - best supers game period, IMO. Mechanics disappear into the background past character generation, and the mechanics are very, very clean and intuitive. It passed my "spider man test" with flying colors - very cool.

    4) Marvel SAGA System (TSR) - man - what a shame this game didn't get much of a chance. Exchanging the role of "dice" for cards - fantastic idea!!! 4 stats period, few skills and powers - just simple, direct, and mixing a "card game" into the "role playing game" was a stroke of genius you simply can NOT get with regular rolling of dice.

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    You forgot the granddaddy of them all, Speaker, Champions/Hero System. Champions/Hero System allows you to create any type of character you want with a plethora of options for customization. The mechanics follow a unified core using 3d6 and are intuitive. The way turns are handled makes for some very intense combat that can be real nail biters. There's a large list of optional rules to simulate anything you want to get the right feel for your game. The added bonus is that Hero System can do any genre so you don't have to learn an entirely new rule set to play a different genre.

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    Hero 5e turned me off champions (I tried to love it, even own two or three copies of the bullet stopping book!) but in the end it was just too much for what I needed. I felt like I was only using 20% and needing to refer to the book all the time, though that may stem from more time as a player and not GM. Besides, the Grandaddy of them all - wasn't superhero 2044 the first supers game? (That said, it was crap, so I'll concede the title to Champions, though I can only speak from 2e)

    My own favourite is DC Heroes (the Mayfair version) probably in 2nd Edition form (3rd edition was a step backwards in terms of presentation and value for money).

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    Quote Originally Posted by APN View Post
    Hero 5e turned me off champions (I tried to love it, even own two or three copies of the bullet stopping book!) but in the end it was just too much for what I needed. I felt like I was only using 20% and needing to refer to the book all the time, though that may stem from more time as a player and not GM. Besides, the Grandaddy of them all - wasn't superhero 2044 the first supers game? (That said, it was crap, so I'll concede the title to Champions, though I can only speak from 2e)

    My own favourite is DC Heroes (the Mayfair version) probably in 2nd Edition form (3rd edition was a step backwards in terms of presentation and value for money).
    The thing about Champions/Hero is that it's a toolkit, so you're going to be getting a lot of information to make it easier for you to decide what is best for your game. I'd rather have too many options then not enough. The bulk of the rules are optional.

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    Yeah 5e looked like it could go anywhere, anytime, anyplace. I didn't love it enough to go to 6e though. Anyone bought 6e? What's the thought? More of the same, nicer to look at, cleaned up and polished, or ground up rewrite?

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    Quote Originally Posted by APN View Post
    Yeah 5e looked like it could go anywhere, anytime, anyplace. I didn't love it enough to go to 6e though. Anyone bought 6e? What's the thought? More of the same, nicer to look at, cleaned up and polished, or ground up rewrite?
    6E removed the linking of characteristics, some renaming of powers to make it less confusing, and better explanations.

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    I left champions off because I've little experience with it, and it made my eyes bleed!

    On the serious side, though, I got in a large discussion with someone a while back and had the basics explained and it failed the "spider-man" test as I've named it.

    Spider-Man test is this:
    Can you build a character with a high agility/dexterity in the system that is NOT automatically going to clean house, or out-fight the likes of Wolverine and Captain America? Champions failed this test - it's like GURPS in that regard - all combat keys off of the dex stat. So, if you have a super-dex character, of necessity, they will beat all kinds of booty! This isn't the "fact" of Spiderman - he's "good" at fighting, but he regularly is out-fought even by the likes of The Shocker w/out using super powers to do it.

    MSH had that Combat Awareness and they specifically had that Fighting stat, so it can pass the test just fine - the awareness upped his defense (which is true to comic - he's a hard target), but left his "ok" combat abilities in tact (the Remarkable rating isn't anything to write home about - he's better than most, but that's about it).

    SAS and M&M both can manage this as both have separate mechanics for boosting "to hit" and "defense" respectively ...

    So, yeah, as it was explained to me, it fails the "spider-man" test of comics, so I don't like to use any system that can't pass it. I started a supers game in gurps, hit this wall (GURPS is my favorite system in general, btw) in super-dex designs, and jumped system outright for all things supers - I'll never go back to grups for supers again, or any other system that automatically makes this sort of association.

    If I can't have Captain America clearly out-fight Spider-Man (not out-damage mind you, just talking out and out likehood of connecting in combat and reading an opponent, etc), there's something wrong to properly "get" supers, IMO, and I'm looking for a new system.

    Little long-winded, but I found my "spider-man" test to be optimal for me and the expectations I have of a supers game in mechanics matching accomplishments in comics, etc.

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Speaker in Dreams View Post
    I left champions off because I've little experience with it, and it made my eyes bleed!

    On the serious side, though, I got in a large discussion with someone a while back and had the basics explained and it failed the "spider-man" test as I've named it.

    Spider-Man test is this:
    Can you build a character with a high agility/dexterity in the system that is NOT automatically going to clean house, or out-fight the likes of Wolverine and Captain America? Champions failed this test - it's like GURPS in that regard - all combat keys off of the dex stat. So, if you have a super-dex character, of necessity, they will beat all kinds of booty! This isn't the "fact" of Spiderman - he's "good" at fighting, but he regularly is out-fought even by the likes of The Shocker w/out using super powers to do it.

    MSH had that Combat Awareness and they specifically had that Fighting stat, so it can pass the test just fine - the awareness upped his defense (which is true to comic - he's a hard target), but left his "ok" combat abilities in tact (the Remarkable rating isn't anything to write home about - he's better than most, but that's about it).

    SAS and M&M both can manage this as both have separate mechanics for boosting "to hit" and "defense" respectively ...

    So, yeah, as it was explained to me, it fails the "spider-man" test of comics, so I don't like to use any system that can't pass it. I started a supers game in gurps, hit this wall (GURPS is my favorite system in general, btw) in super-dex designs, and jumped system outright for all things supers - I'll never go back to grups for supers again, or any other system that automatically makes this sort of association.

    If I can't have Captain America clearly out-fight Spider-Man (not out-damage mind you, just talking out and out likehood of connecting in combat and reading an opponent, etc), there's something wrong to properly "get" supers, IMO, and I'm looking for a new system.

    Little long-winded, but I found my "spider-man" test to be optimal for me and the expectations I have of a supers game in mechanics matching accomplishments in comics, etc.
    However, Hero System has removed the linking of characteristics so you can have a character with a high dex but can't hit or clean the room.

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    maybe it is just me, but I see spider-man beating captain america. How does palladium's heroes unlimited measure up in this test? I used eugenics to build a spiderman, and captain america is the model "super-soldier".
    "I'm not going crazy. I'm going sane in a CRAZY world!"

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    Interesting on Hero's change. I believe as of 5e (not 100% on this, though - mostly from the guy I chatted with. It could have been the bullet-stopper book, though if that was 4e.) the dex was keyed to striking somehow.

    If they have indeed divorced these concepts, good! I'll add it as a pass for my Spider-man test.

    As for Cap/Spidey fighting ... :shrugs: I think more often than not it would go to Cap. Spidey's fast, and strong, so when he hits, it'll be a lot harder. Cap's got the combat skill and can read the other guy well, especially one that's not particularly skilled at combat, etc. I'd edge it out to Cap for just being able to set the field a lot more accurately and press advantages more often than Spidey would really understand how to manage it.

    Mostly, though - it's not a "who would win" test, so much as a "who's got more skill test" and Cap's got that in spades, but a LOT of systems by default give this advantage to anyone with a superior agility/dexterity/whatever stat, though.

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Speaker in Dreams View Post
    Interesting on Hero's change. I believe as of 5e (not 100% on this, though - mostly from the guy I chatted with. It could have been the bullet-stopper book, though if that was 4e.) the dex was keyed to striking somehow.

    If they have indeed divorced these concepts, good! I'll add it as a pass for my Spider-man test.
    Hero System is now up to the sixth edition and one of the changes to the system was the delinking of characteristics, so DEX and CV are bought up separately. CVs start at a base of 3 and they added in Offensive Mental Combat Value and Defensive Mental Combat Value to replace ECV.

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    I recently took a look at Hero 6E. I was far from impressed. I knew the art style had changed for the worse with the advent of Champions Online; Defender used to be my favorite now I hate the way the character looks. Also, I remember when Dr. destroyer used to look physically frightening and imposing; now he just looks like the Terror from 'The Tick' with a few extra bits of armor.

    Overall, the de-linking of characteristics is one of the worst moves with 6E, and there's too many other things that bug me to want to put any money into the system. 5E is excellent and definate proof of the old adage 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'. 5E has been the pinnacle for the Hero System so far and 6E is a step in the wrong direction.

    For people intimidated by the size of Hero 5E (or 6E, for that matter), Hero Games publishes condensed versions that leave out a lot of the examples and expansion and show the bare bones of the system. %E has the Hero System Sidekick and 6E has the Basic Rulebook.

    While we're on the subject of systems, here's some superhero game systems that counter many of the OP's points.

    Underground: A variant of Mayfair's DC Heroes (MEGS) game system set in a dystopian America that we seem to be heading towards in real life day by day. The PC's are Veterans, enhances soldiers given super-powers for fight for various conflict corporations that engage in proxy warfare for other corporations over resources. Suffering from psychological trauma caused by both war and their powers, the PC's try to survive 'out of country' and maybe work to bring back some of the principals of the Founding Fathers.

    Providence: A little known RPG from Canada, Providence combines fantasy and superpowers in a unique setting. Trapped in a prison world, the PC's search for the gateways back to the homeworld that exiled their forebearers over 1000 years ago. Some characters wield magic and some have inborn abilities that make them superhuman. An intriguing setting with many options for where a campaign can go.

    Aberrant: From White Wolf games, this superhero game setting is as rich with story potential as any WW product. Ten years after an explosion in space leaks a radioactive cloud onto the Earth, the metahumnas (Novas) that have appeared have come to dominate pop culture as well as the global economy. Who needs to be a supervilian and rob banks when even possessing moderate metahuman abilities can get you a 6 or 7 figure salary with a corporation? Novas have revitalized the Earth, virtually eliminated cancer, AIDS, and other diseases, and have brought peace and prosperity under the guiding hand of the Aeon Society and Project Utopia. But the hidden price of Utopia is starting to be uncovered. In WW's grand tradition, Aberrant has a dark conspiracy underlying the main setting, one that will ultimately ravage the campaign world. The other two game systems linked are Trinity, set 200+ years after Aberrant focusing on sci-fi space opera and psionics, and Adventure!, set in the 1920's and 30's and focusing on pulp adventures. All three games had a d20 release as well.

    Brave New World: Set in a modern setting where President Kennedy was saved from assassination, Brave New World from AEG is another superhero game that has a darker undertone than first appears. Order and prosperity exists, but only at the sacrifice of individual freedom. The characters have the choice of either preserving the status quo or working to overthrow the totalitarian regime that governs America.

    There are plenty of other games with superhero themes out there. And a lot of them break the 'standard' mold that was originally commented on. Just because a game has characters with powers beyond those of mortal men, doesn't mean you have to run a campaign that feels like it's directly from Marvel or DC. As in any kind of RPG, the only real limits of a superhero game are your imagination and creativity.

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