Thursday, December 16, 2010

Testing out a Supers Game

After some debate I am determined to get some kind of supers gaming gong for 2011, even if it's once a month. Since the main group is largely committed to 4E D&D this will probably be done with the family as the main players. I'm going to try out a few systems over the holiday break to see which one works for our purposes. One note: I make several references to Champions below and when i do I mean the tabletop Hero System game, not the MMO. In contrast, I mention City of Heroes as well, and I do mean the MMO there as we play it pretty regularly so it's a big factor here when discussing Super RPG's.

My main candidates are:

1) Mutants and Masterminds (2E) - I know 3E is out now but I have a nice pile of 2E books and I've never run the game, so it goes against my grain to go buy a new edition when I never used the previous edition. As I see it:

  • The basic system is d20 with a similar stats-skills-feats structure that will be familiar enough to my players to make the transition easier
  • Support material is good - this is important with superhero RPG's as it's usually tougher to throw together a random bad guy or NPC than in, say, D&D. I have a couple of supervillain books and the Instant Superheroes book so that's covered, plus the Mastermind's Manual which is the DM's Guide and rule tweak book. 
  • Speed - it looks to me like combat should play pretty quickly as it's bare-bones d20 without Opportunity Attacks or Hit Points. This could prove to be incorrect but of the Super RPG's I know it looks like a fairly speedy system.
  • No Endurance - From Champions to City of Heroes most of my Supers RPG time has involved some kind of Endurance mechanic and M&M has none. This will probably speed up play but I'm not sure it's a sacrifice I want to make. 
  •  Genericness - Equipment stats are pretty broad and there is some lack of crunch in how to differentiate a particular car or gun or device from another. That may be OK in a supers game but compared to Champions there is a lot less room for customization. 
  • Simplicity - It's almost too simple. Blast 10 with an Attack +10 means you roll a d20 +10 to hit vs. the target's Defense number (basically their AC). Assuming you hit then the target has to make a damage save vs a DC 25. The degree of failure or success determines the effect on the target, from "nothing" to "knocked out". There are Fort, Reflex, and Will saves in addition to Damage (which is like AC in 4E as it is the "normal" target for an attack) but there is not much focus on the type of damage as you would find in 4E or Champions or even City of Heroes where it's possible to have wildly different defenses and weaknesses versus certain attack types. 

2) Champions (Hero System 4th or 5th Edition) - It's a very good system that can do pretty much everything at the cost of some complexity in character generation and slower-moving combat than some systems, although compared to 4E D&D I'm not so sure it's all that slow anymore. I have a very large pile of stuff for this and I would love to dust it off and use it for real for a change.

  • Detailed exactly-what-you-want character building - there's no contest here, and it works well.
  • Detailed combat - combat in Hero is going to feel similar to 4E in that you will always have a good set of options or maneuvers to try 
  • Support - I have almost every book published for 4E Hero system and 5E Hero System so no matter what the players do I should have some material to draw upon on the fly
  • Might be too complex for the players. It does reward some system mastery but I know it fairly well and can help them get started.
  • Combat is supposedly slow though I do not remember it being all that slow and compared to 4E combat it should flow similarly once we have some experience. 
  • No synergy - apart from being more complex it also has nothing to do with d20 or with any other system the players have learned so we would be starting from scratch. I don't mind  broadening their horizons a bit (d6 Star Wars already did that some) but I do want to actually play.
 3) Marvel Super Heroes - This is a fairly straightforward system and I have a good amount of supporting material  (see a pattern here?).

  • It's Marvel! - everyone knows how Marvel super types would handle a situation so the implied behavior is in there from the beginning. 
  • Easy mechanics - not always simple but they are pretty easy to follow. 
  • Fast play - I think it plays pretty fast when using heroes vs. villains of similar or lower power levels 
  • It's Marvel! - I'm afraid the sheer amount of Marvel flavor might overwhelm the game with the players always wanting to be Wolverine or Spiderman instead of making up their own.
  •  Simplicity - there's not a lot of crunch beyond the basics, no endurance mechanic, and the players may get bored with the color chart.
  • No level or scale - this is a pain as a DM as it's difficult to tell sometimes how to rate the opposition. M&M has power levels and Champions has point limits. Marvel has nothing, really.  
Other options I considered included :
  • Godlike (low powered supers in WW2) but I think it may be too historical and too casual to PC death.
  • Silver Age Sentinels - I like the system but I have very little support for it
  • Savage Worlds - Necessary Evil is cool but it's meant for a very specific campaign and I don't want to run  that campaign again. 
  • Icons - new and cool but if M&M is looking too simple right now then Icons is way lighter than I want to use.  
 So it's really down to M&M or Champions with Marvel as a fallback third if neither of those goes over well. Wit ha more experienced or hardcore group of players I would run Champions in a heartbeat. With my less experienced and less crunchy group of players at hand M&M may be the best choice. I will probably run a combat for each and see what works the best for out group. Once I have that figured out we will start up a semi-regular campaign and see where it goes.

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