Developing a Superhero Campaign: Evaluating Systems



I'm continuing thoughts on a possible superhero campaign, this time focusing on system.

I'm going to be thinking about systems with a few criteria. They are:
  • My thoughts on the system
  • How well a fit it is for my group
  • Any possible hiccups running the game with Roll20
  • The availability of the game
My group consists of people who have all played a decent number of systems and genres. Some are pretty knowledgeable on rules and gaming history while others are more of the "here's what I want to do, tell me what to roll" style. We've dabbled in Fate-style games in the past - I like them quite a bit but I'm not 100% certain we're a great fit for such a strongly narrative style of play (though as I've said before, when Dresden Files Accelerated comes out we are most definitely taking it for a spin). We've made use of Roll20 for our gaming, with players concentrated in Massachusetts but with a number located further south. The character sheet tools for Edge of the Empire have really spoiled us, handling initiative tracking, skill resolution, criticals, etc. 

So, with those preliminary thoughts out of the way...

Champions Complete


It's obvious that Champions needs to be considered. It's one of the classic superhero RPGs and one that I really do want to try out. It's definitely old school, not going for any of this narrative stuff. It's a tremendously flexible system, one that's been used for campaigns ranging from barbarian warriors to cosmic superheroes.

It's also a bit intimidating, what with it's NND, OAF, RKA, Post-Segment 12 recoveries, aborting to an action, VPP, etc. I've a little experience with it - I seem to recall playing a post-apocalyptic one-shot where the GM used the 4th edition Champions in conjunction with a copy of Danger International. My poor biker got run over by a fuel truck and died a horrible death.

While the 5th and 6th editions of Hero were absolutely terrifying (a 6th edition Champions game would require two rulebooks plus a genre book), I'm finding Champions Complete to be a lot more manageable. What I need to decide is it manageable enough for me - certainly not a gaming novice, but far from experienced at Hero and needing to teach about half the players. In its favor, the other players definitely do have experience with Champions and related games. I do have Hero Builder software which will definitely help with churning out NPCs and possibly PCs as well.

It's support at the virtual tabletop level is so-so. There's a Hero 6th Edition character sheet for Roll20 but I don't believe it does much for combat tracking, something that would be very handy in Champions, with its 12-segment turns with characters having phases on some of those segments depending on their Speed.

It's something I'm definitely considering while staying aware of my own lack of experience with it. Were we to use it I anticipate keeping things at a low power level, something akin to your typical Golden Age of Comics hero, with perhaps a single power or tightly group set of powers.

Mutants & Masterminds


While newer than Champions, Mutants & Masterminds has been around long enough to have a 3rd edition. One of the survivors of the d20 boom and bust cycle of the early 2000s, M&M has definitely moved quite a ways away from its D&D 3rd edition starting point, though you can certainly still see it in the game's DNA. It has characteristics reminiscent of D&D, though M&M foregoes the traditional 3-18 range and just uses the stat modifier. It has saving throws and skills, but no hit points (making use of "damage saves" and various wound levels).

Like Champions and other Hero games, M&M is effect-based. A blast of fire is essentially a ranged attack with fire as a special effect. I've heard it described as doing perhaps 80% of the work of Champions with perhaps a third of the work required.  

Looking at Roll20 support, it is quite bit more developed than Hero 6th Edition, though to be honest it probably doesn't need it as much in any case.


Daring Comics


Technically not out, though I do have a PDF copy of this due to Kickstarting it. Hmm, this is probably something I should review. Daring Comics is a superpowered Fate game. There have been a number of very focused efforts for making a superpowered Fate game but I believe this is the first one to fully embrace the universe of comic books.

It is most definitely a Fate game, which brings with it the challenge of the narrative aspects of that style of gaming. In its favor, the tropes of superheroes are very well known which would likely help with aspect creation, as opposed to a genre where you are explaining the basics of the setting to the players.

Daring Comics is pretty flexible, to the extent it has entered into consideration. I'm still in the process of digesting the rules, but so far it seems like something that would definitely work, should we be so inclined as to go the Fate route. Fate is well-supported on Roll20 which is a bonus.

Wild Talents 


I debated whether to include this - I decided to as it is a game I like a lot. What I need to figure out is if it is right for my current group.

Wild Talents makes use of the One Roll Engine. Essentially you roll a bunch of dice and are looking for matched sets as well as for high numbers. In combat, the die roll represents hit location, with 10 being the head, while the number of matches (the width) indicates damage. It's a somewhat "gritty" game, working, in my opinion, best at the Daredevil/Batman/Spider-Man/etc. power level - as this is what I generally prefer, that's all to the good.

It also has a unique way of building powers, allowing for some very interesting builds.

However, in my experience it required a decent amount of bookkeeping - looking for matched pairs, everyone rolling all at once, etc. Sadly, Roll20 support for it is nonexistent. Yes, technically I could get off my lazy butt and do it myself, but working full-time, being a husband and dad, and going to grad school part-time makes it a bit unlikely I'll be making any hobby-related updates to github in the near future. I might do a bit of Googling to see if anyone has made a combat manager for Wild Talents.


Others

There's a few other games I'm thinking about but aren't currently in the core group. That could change, as I am doing a fair amount of flipping through. Off the top of my head this list includes:
  • Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (MWP)
  • Marvel Superheroes (TSR)
  • Icons
  • Savage Worlds
Thinking Businessman Copyright: keeweeboy / 123RF Stock Photo
Other images taken from front covers of RPG products.

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