Skip to main content

Superheroes, Mysterious and Tiny

You'll be relieved to know that I have some opinions about Superhero RPGs.

Superhero rpgs work best when they are qualitative, not quantitative. A story-game-ish approach that focuses on narrative outcomes emulates the genre better than one that ries to quantify exatcly how strong Thor is compared to Hulk compared to Spiderman.

Superheroes are notably unbalanced, with cosmic spacegods hanging out with unpowered vigilantes. Call it the Angel Summoner/BMX Bandit divide. A test-case I like to try with Supers rulesets is to make a plucky boyscout with a really nice swiss army knife who can still participate meaningfully when the spacegods start punching each other.

Marvel/FASERIP and GURPS Supers both, in my opinion, both fall down in this regard.

I've also been disappointed with attempts to reskin D&D for Supers. I got started thinking about superhero rpgs after coming across the Legends of the Metaverse kickstarter. You can check out the rules here. It's kinda fun, and has some good ideas, but Vancian magic is not a great fit for the genre.

An SRD-derived supers game that I love—and that passes the plucky boyscout test—is John Stater's Myster Men! It has a very clever character creation system that is a lot of fun to build with. Basically, you start out with a huge pool of experience points that you spend to buy powers. At the end of chargen, unspent XP determines your starting level. Your spacegod has all the mighty powers you want, but will need them because he's starting at level one. The plucky boy scout, on the other hand, has no powers, but a very high starting level with attendant massive saving throws, etc. This can model extreme competence, or the sort of stupid luck and plot immunity that teen sidekicks have been surviving on for decades.

BTW, if you're shopping around, make sure to get the edition with the great Joel Carroll illustrations of public domain superheroes that John publishes himself, and not the greasy, over-textured editon that some other publisher put out for a few years.

Which brings me to another opinion on Super RPGs. They have to have good art. This isn't a dealbreaker in other genres, but it is here. Superheroes are associated with comics, and comics are a visual medium, and it's simply awful trying to get into the headspace of a supers game while being interrupted by weirdly-articulated, badly composed illustrations.

I just started a mini-campaign with TinySupers, which uses the TinyD6 game system—a system that falls into the Maze Rats level of rules-lightness. The mechanics are simple enough to learn in a minute or two, but well-thought-out enough that you feel like you're on firm ground when playing. And the art is great! I have a particular fondness for superhero art that still has some cartooniness to it, like C.C. Beck's Captain Marvel, and Nicolas Giacondino's art hits a sweet spot for me.

The two quibbles I have with Tiny Supers are:
1. A lot of the text reads like boilerplate from the TinyD6 flagship, TinyDungeons 2e. Not a real problem, but it calls attention to itself, and would have been simple to fix.
2. It's easy to think up a superhero that you can't make with the existing options. I'm glad they didn't try to make an absolutely comphrehensive list of powers, as that would get unweildy. So, instead, the answer is to roll your own. Fortunately, homebrewing a bunch of super-powers is 100% my idea of a good time.

So I'm pretty happy with the game, and have started eyeing several other TinyD6 titles.

More to come. I've got a document of rules reference, house rules, and homebrew powers to share.

Also, I know that there are a lot of supers rulesets I haven't seen. Recommendations are always welcome!


Popular posts from this blog

Reviewing Rules for Play-by-Post Optimization

I’ve played a lot of PbP games: all your favorite flavors of OD&D, AD&D, and their retroclones, Call of Cthulhu, Marvel Superheroes, Traveller, Dungeon World, etc. ad nauseam. In almost every instance, I forgot what ruleset we were using at some point. Which is a good thing. Once chargen is over, you spend a lot more time describing your characters actions and poring over the GM’s descriptions than you spend interacting with rules. When you do roll, it’s usually a combat to-hit roll, which you’ve probably programmed into the online dice-roller as a macro. Pretty much any game will work for PbP. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t points of possible optimization. Point 1: Resolution. Anything that can keep the action moving is a boon to PbP. A game that requires a back-and-forth exchange of information to resolve an action is going to progress very slowly. A good rule of thumb is that it’ll take 2 or 3 days to get a response from any given player. At that pace, an exch

Maze Rats by Post

In my previous post , I reviewed a bunch of my favorite rulesets for optimization for Play-by-Post. It occurred to me almost immediately that I hadn't really thought about Maze Rats enough. In fact, I'd mis-remembered and mischaracterized it. Upon reflection, one of the mechanics I took issue with is actually a big strength. Re-reading the rules, it seems like just a few very simple hacks could make it a highly-optimized PbP game. As follows: Danger Rolls are rolled by the GM. Danger rolls usually fail, so it is in the player’s interest to describe their actions plausibly and mitigate as many risks as they can, in the hopes that they don’t trigger a danger roll. 2d6 + ability bonus ≥ 10 If you have taken enough precautions to have a distinct advantage in an action, but not enough to have eliminated the distinct possibility of danger, the GM will give you a roll with advantage. 3d6 keep 2 + ability bonus ≥ 10 Because each character only has 3 ability scores (S

Knaves, fancypants

I've prepared a new layout document of Ben Milton's Knaves . Knaves is a great, light rules set that has an extremely elegant core mechanic while retaining total compatibility with OSR material. It's pretty much the rpg of my dreams. This document contains the complete rules, plus a bunch of useful hacks from the community, plus a few of my invention, plus some useful resources from Ben Milton's previous effort, Maze Rats . EDIT: I've updated the layout to fix errata and make a few tweaks. Further, I've made 3 variations: KNAVES TABLET LAYOUT The Tablet Layout is meant for scrolling on screens, and contains hyperlinks. KNAVES SPREAD LAYOUT The Spread Layout is set up to print on Letter-sized paper. KNAVES A4 LAYOUT The A4 Layout is set up to print on A4 paper, and is probably the most elegant of the three versions. This is presented with generous permission from Ben Milton, and should in no way be an excuse for not purchasing a copy of Knav