Roll for Initiative!

Maxo at Great Caesar’s Post had a really interesting article yesterday about the perceived rivalries between comics fans and pen-and-paper RPG fans. I fluctuate between thinking Maxo’s right and thinking he’s wrong — while there does seem to be a general rivalry between the two groups, it’s also pretty clear that there’s a lot of bleedover from fans of comics to fans of RPGs.

It all got me thinking about superhero games, too. I’ve only been able to play in one superhero RPG — when I was in college, some friends cracked open a copy of the classic Marvel Super Heroes game, they helped me roll up a character, and we played through a short scenario. When you roll up a random character, you’ll get stuck with some pretty crazy stuff — mine had very high strength, a nearly nonexistent IQ, and an absolutely incredible sense of smell. So I called him Mr. Nosey. (What? It’s a perfectly good superhero name.) I teamed up with SonicAttack (Battle cry: “You can’t stop… SONICATTACK! DAMAGE!”), and we took on Sterno-Man (a former bum who got his fire powers from drinking Sterno) and a fairly ineffectual refugee from a blaxploitation flick called Captain Alphonso Power.

Other than that, I’ve never actually been able to play in a superhero game, despite buying a metric ton of superhero RPG books. I could never get the hang of Champions, which is far and away the most popular superhero game. I always loved the insane detail in the character design process in Steve Jackson Games’ GURPS games, so I liked their GURPS Supers books, even if they were generally low-powered superheroes. I used to fill up stacks of legal pads with GURPS Supers characters, just to fill time after work. But as far as I can tell, I’ve always been the lone GURPShead in every town I’ve ever lived in.

I’ve recently started picking up the Mutants and Masterminds game from Green Ronin Publishing. Again, I haven’t played any games with it, but the books are jam-packed with good stuff, like a cross between the Justice League, the Avengers, and the Fantastic Four. You get the feeling that they got their inspiration from Grant Morrison’s modern “JLA,” but they also love to throw in cool bits from the Silver Age, like secret cities on the moon, atomic dinosaurs, and evil gorilla geniuses. I think it may be the best superhero RPG system ever, but I don’t know if they’ll ever grab the golden ring away from the Champions RPG.

And I’ve also enjoyed reading the Truth & Justice RPG from Atomic Sock Monkey Games. It’s a much more rules-light system — you get to skip a lot of the time-consuming elements of character creation in favor of just writing down who you are and what you can do (with the gamemaster’s approval, of course). There’s a lot of emphasis on improvisation, both by players and gamemasters, and the rules contain several pages of some of the crazy/cool themes and elements of comics — I suspect that’s just to remind players of some of the wicked-kewl stuff you can do with a superhero game.

So howzabout you? Have you ever gotten to play any superhero RPGs? Which ones are your favorites?

No Comments

  1. WizarDru Said,

    May 29, 2009 @ 7:09 am

    I’ve played multiple superhero RPGs over the years, but Mutants and Masterminds is probably the best. With concepts like ‘hero points’ allowing both the players and game master to help emulate the classic ‘villain wins first match, heroes rally and win rematch’, M&M really ‘gets’ what makes superheroes appealing.

    At a convention last year, we played a one-shot where I played a Zatara-esque character and the game master treated it as an issue of a non-existent comic book…including describing the very Kirby-esque cover and even having an interactive fruit pie advertisement. 🙂

  2. Sado Said,

    May 29, 2009 @ 8:39 am

    I played a lot of the classic Marvel SH stuff back in the day, and I wasn’t into comics much. Fortunately, neither were my friends, so we committed a lot of atrocities that would make Stan Lee cry.

    I’m not sure how the Savage Worlds system plays, but you might want to read the “Necessary Evil” campaign book. The story within is pretty neat and compelling. What if…all of the good guys were wiped out in a surprise attack by aliens (including the resident Superman). Who would save the day?

    Would you believe the supervillains, led by Doctor D…estroyer, the resident Superman’s nemesis.

  3. Sado Said,

    May 29, 2009 @ 8:45 am

    I forgot to mention “Brave New World”, which was from Pinnacle (the same folks who make Deadlands, the Spaghetti Western RPG with lots of Meat). It had some interesting ideas, but Pinnacle had a bad habit of not letting anyone know what was Actually Going On from the outset, so you’d need to buy lots of supplements.

  4. Bert Said,

    May 29, 2009 @ 10:02 am

    I’ve played a lot of RPG’s of all flavors over the years. I love playing and GMing. Unfortunately I don’t get to play or GM often anymore. But on the Superhero side, I’ve played and run GURPS, Marvel Super Heroes (classic) and I’ve played Champions. Man, if I can come up with time, I’d love to GM a super hero game – and the only super hero game I own that’s not in storage (I think) is GURPS. But finding the time…

  5. VoodooBen Said,

    May 29, 2009 @ 7:58 pm

    I really enjoyed Abberant – though I made up a lot of the rules as we went along, because like a lot of early console X-Men games, it actually cost you points or something to use your power. LOVED the character creation part of it, though.

  6. SpaceBooger Said,

    May 30, 2009 @ 2:06 pm

    I miss playing these types of games. Growing older with more responsibility and having a family really hinders my ability to play. I used to play the DC Heroes one. We never followed it 100% but it was great fun.

  7. Danny Said,

    May 30, 2009 @ 8:03 pm

    LOL! You are like me, in that I love SuperHero RPGs but never get to play. I do read a few of ’em, and I’m pretty sure I have a handle on every game in the market. I’m a Marvel junkie, tho, so I have at various times in my life owned every single Marvel RPG ever made– and even all the board games. Whenever we actually played anything, we would always the classic Marvel TSR game, tho, which still has a pretty active fanbase actually at

  8. Geoff Said,

    May 30, 2009 @ 8:41 pm

    Hey Scott. Long-time reader, first-time commenter here.

    I’m surprised no one here has mentioned Villains & Vigilantes (2nd Edition). We had a long running, VERY rich V&V campaign back in the day; I could type for hours about it. Although (like the rules suggest) we didn’t randomly roll powers, we made up our own heroes (within reason and Ref’s approval, of course,

    Because of all that time playing it, I really enjoyed this post, good job!