Monday, September 26, 2011

The Superhero Engine

While others were celebrating Mark Hamill's Birthday (Sorry, I missed it Mark, Happy Birthday!) and discussing ways of keeping (or rather making) D&D fantastic ( by being vague, adding mystery, making it less about knowing all the stats of a monster or enemy and generally doing stuff I first did 30 years ago)* my mind is once again on Supers...

I am not breaking new ground here but I thought it needed to be said that a good Superhero game has to be, generally speaking, a really good game mechanics wise.

Most games are developed to emulate a style, genre or particular theme that the creators are going for. Supers is no exception but rather the best Superhero RPGs can be used to generate characters and stories from a multitude of different styles, genres and themes.

I think the ability of a single system or game (even those with sets of systems) that can have a 'non-powered' acrobat with gadgets and his superhuman, flying alien pal tangle with an ancient dark wizard and his cyborg sidekick is under appreciated. That is, you can say any set of stats is anything you want but few non-Superhero games give you the tools to actually make these things feel or work differently in play.

Having played quite a bit of Champions over the years (and again lately), I have to say that for my money, this is one of the greatest game systems ever developed. It has it's flaws to be sure but it also enables you to build just about anything you can imagine with distinctive details as to how the character, device, vehicle, base or whathaveyou operates.

Perhaps you have a starship with awesome anti-energy shields (Resistant Energy Defense) but they're no good at stopping solid objects from hitting (Poor or even no Resistant Physical Defense). Maybe you're a wizard who has several requirements before a spell can be cast. Your magic could be versatile and powerful (Variable Power Pool) within it's limitations (Gestures, Incantations, Limited Power: Conditional-Doesn't work under a yellow moon).

Mutants & Masterminds, while an awesomely, awesome game and one I love to be sure, is another example of a great system even if it lacks some of the detail of Champions. I am constantly arguing with my own better judgement on whether or not to add those details in as house rules. If I could just differentiate the mechanics of the powers and add in some of the limitations to get a bit more out of the game, M&M would be without a doubt my most favorite Superhero gaming engine. At the same time, it would require a lot of work on my part and would probably take away some of the charm of the simplicity of the system.

Anyhoo, hopefully I can blog a bit more in the coming week and turn over a new leaf to blog like a mad man in October. After all, October is RECESS, New York Comic Con and the end of the first month of the unholy evil know as DC's New 52. Expect a review of a most unkind kind.

Later Days,

Barking Alien

*I kid, I kid.

The articles and ideas in said discussion were really quite good.
I only tease snarkily because, y'know, I really can't stand that game.

**While Mutants & Masterminds is not a 'simple system' in the way Toon or TFOS is, it's a far simpler game to play and run than Champions is.


  1. If only M&M could emulate Elemental Controls as well as they do Multipowers....

  2. Oops, there goes the HERO System bias -- which I share, haha!

  3. Just a quick thing on the HERO System from some folks that also relatively recently (w/in the last 5 years) tried out and enjoyed the Hero System (we infected 'em with it):

    "The Hero System is solid system that is broken in several places, but unlike other systems it TELLS you where it's broken."

  4. @Erin - Sooo right. I couldn't agree more. Although I would go so far as to say that M&M doesn't quite do any of the power frameworks quite as awesomely as Champions.

    It's version of the Multipower, called an Array in M&M, is indeed good but I like how Advantages and Limitations work with your Multipower in Champions to fine tune your PC's abilites and make it 'feel' really different from that of another PC.

    @"Ka-Blog!" - Interesting, I've experience fewer and fewer people playing Champions around my neck of the woods lately. Partially this is due to more Supers games being on the market but I also think the way the latest edition was produced turned a few players off.

    In the age of simplifing and condensing things into one book, the new version of the HERO system requires more, larger books than ever before even though the system is supposed to be streamlined. Boo. Bad form.

    Still, pound for pound, 4th and 5th Edition rocked and I still use 4th for my current campaigns (when not playing M&M 3E).