28 August 2010

Ah, what direction to go?


Well, I have been floundering around with the idea of running a Supers RPG for several months now. The question is, what ruleset?

1. Heroes Unlimited (Palladium Books).  For me, this one is tried and true. It's very old school in feel. It uses d20 and the "Megaversal System" that some love and some loathe. It uses experience points, but classes in this game are more of a "power origin" than anything else.  And I like Kevin Siembieda; odd, yes, but I do, so there is a lot of personal loyalty there as well.

The Pluses. I have run this bad boy in one form or another since the Teenaged Mutant Turtles RPG was published by Palladium back in the mid 1980s. I even ran this at a con this year, and I can wing this one in my sleep.

The Minuses. There's not much in the way of advancement. Oh, combat levels do improve as do skills and you gain some new skills occasionally. However, powers are pretty much locked in at first level and, generally, do not change at all.  On the flip side, your character will pretty much be the way one envisions him at first level.

2. DC Adventures RPG/Mutants & Masterminds 3E (Green Ronin). This is the game that really started the supers genre back up in the RPG world. True, Heroes Unlimited and Champions stayed in print (mostly as far as Champions/Hero is concerned), but it was very niche. Still is, but M&M was
the one that made Superhero RPGs "kewl" again (funny to use that phrase where geeks like us are concerned :D).

The beginning for this game is awesome in my humble opinion. Green Ronin came to Steve Kenson and asked, "Can you design a d20 Supers game for us?" Steve said, "Yes, I can, BUT I want to use my campaign for the default setting." You see, back in the 90s, Steve had designed a city for Champions but, with all the upheaval with that game line, it got tossed to the curb. Steve kept on it, though, because it was his baby in many respects. So, when opportunity knocked, he jumped on it.

Recently, GR obtained the DC license, a much coveted piece of paper since Mayfair lost it so long ago. (We won't mention WEG at all. Oh, wait, I did.) This also gives GR a chance to update the M&M engine and make some minor changes to the rules.

Pluses. M&M2E is a joy to run. It has a lot of neat ideas (GM fiat, for instance) and powers are built much easier than in Champions. Unlike HU, powers can be customized. The Freedom City 
setting is rich and vibrant; comic fans can glean homages to their favorite heroes and teams all through the book. There is also a lot of original thought and care put into the setting. Centurion is my favorite hero (a Superman homage) and even spawned the idea for my main toon in City of Heroes, Tribunus. Alternatively, there is the whole DC Universe top play with; a campaign centered the premise of the DC Universe MMO (new heroes have arisen to aid the "regulars" and prevent a future cataclysm) is very plausible.

Minuses. The pluses. Seriously. One can get very involved in the number crunching for characters although nowhere in the league of Champions. It does take some getting used to, however. Also, the setting (both of them). I know, I know, I can create my own, but it's hard not to use the premade ones, especially seeing as how vibrant they both are. Also, M&M3E is not out yet, although that is essentially the engine that DC Heroes uses. I'm a bit of a completist, when  it comes to games. I could just use 2E, however.

3. Bash RPG! (Basic Action Games). One of the newer super games, but a good one. This game harkens back to a mechanic superficially similar to the old TSR Marvel RPG of the 1980s. 
I say superficial because it's not quite the same thing. it is a color chart and you roll dice to find not an effect level, but just success. The character creation is simple and quick. When I first skimmed through the book, I thought, "Too simple." But it's not. There's a hidden layer of complexity in the rules and yet, it retains a certain level of simplicity at the same time. Combat is not done in rounds or melees, but in panels and pages. It's a system that works well with supers.

Pluses. Simplicity. It's quick and easy to create characters and run combats. No getting mired down in the fighting like in Champions. [We once spent an hour on a single SEGMENT (phase) of a round in Champions!] It's has an easy mechanic that apes that of the genre quite well.

Minuses. The only real minus is the fact that I've yet to actually run this game. Now, I've been gaming since 1982 (egad, I'm getting older!), so one would think that that wouldn't cause any apprehension, but it does.

4. Villains and Vigilantes RPG (Monkey House Games).  Last, but by no means the least, is V&V. If M&M rekindled the flames of supers genre, V&V was the first...EVAH! Jeff Dee and Jack Herman have reasserted their claim the trademark and taken it back from FGU (a debate for another time and place). Unfortunately, V&V is not sold on Amazon (yet?) but here's a link to MHG's Lulu store. It can also be bought in pdf form here.

I recently got the "new" 2.1 version of the rules from Lulu. 55 pages. 55 PAGES!!! That's not a lot. Unlike many of the games that FGU published back in the 1980s, this one had a lack of crunch...which is good, because sometimes I felt like getting out the calculators and slide rules when playing Space Opera or Aftermath! To be so brief, there is a certain attraction for the rules as they are. I said that Heroes Unlimited is old school, but so is V&V. How so, you ask? Well, if HU is analogous to AD&D (1E), then V&V is analogous to original D&D (0E, or "whitebox"). It leaves a lot in the hands of the GM. And admittedly, the older I get the more I like simple systems that just allow me to roll some dice and go with the action. Gary still preferred original D&D when he died.

Pluses. This game would leave a lot of the detail up to me, which is fine. There is a lot of support out there in the way of fan sites and even a great fan forum. Heck, there are even metal minis still in production! (That's not so good for original heroes, but if I use their villains....)  And see above for my thoughts on simplicity.

Minuses. Well, am I looking at the game with the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia? Admittedly, I didn't play a lot of V&V back in the day. I was more of a Champions guy back then and well into the 90s.

Well, there you have it. I'll probably run HU at home with the kids. We alternate between AD&D (1E) and Palladium Fantasy, so crunch is fine. It gives them structure. :) But, I would like to run an alternate supers game for my adult group to give Ramsey a break occasionally. I am definite leaning more to #2, 3, or 4. If anybody actually reads this, your thoughts and comments are appreciated.
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