Thursday, March 9, 2023

Aaron Allston's Strike Force


This is an updated version of the original Strike Force from 1988 and is the product of a Kickstarter drive in 2016. I made a post about the original over ten years ago and thought very highly of it. With a newer version out there I figured it was high time I looked it over too.

Some straight-up comparisons:

  • The original was a 96 page softcover while this one is a 256 page hardcover. Both are available in PDF.
  • The original was black and white while the newer book has some use of color in layout and illustrations. It's not a Mutants and Masterminds book but it's not B&W either.  
  • The Strike Force campaign kept running so while the original covers the first 6-7 years of the campaign this one includes information on what happened after that from AA's own notes.
So right there if you're interested in how an original superhero campaign progressed, well, there's a lot to explore. For one there was an alien invasion and then a third world war which had the heroes helping to rebuild the war  - here was a man who was not afraid to shake things up! I've preached for a long time that you have to be willing to let your PC's leave a mark on the world and here is a strong example of where that can go. Throughout this campaign there is dimension-hopping, space exploration, alien invasions, alternate earths causing trouble ... a bunch of comic book tropes used and explored and making permanent impacts on the world. This new edition covers another two decades of play so it is definitely worth a look for that. 


There is a big section on the heroes and villains of the campaign. It took up roughly 50 pages in the original and it's around 100 in this one. In many ways this is the least valuable chapter in the book for me as the value in this book is less about Hero System stats and more about how the campaign as a whole worked over time. That said this also includes bios for most of the characters and those can help one make sense of the interplay between characters and the changes over time. For example, one of the early Dr. Doom-ish villains slowly moves away from world domination and by the end is more of a scientific benefactor aiding the heroes and the world in general - not something we see in a lot of superhero stories where some things need to be constant but totally applicable to an ongoing RPG campaign. For the major heroes it shows their Champions character sheet at the beginning of the campaign and then their updated sheet at the end of the campaign which could be interesting for Champions players and GMs.

Other interesting campaign material includes the expected timeline, discussion of major events, how magic works, how technology fits in and has changed over time, secret lands, major organizations, some secret societies, other dimensions, other earths, and alien races and empires. This all fleshes out the big picture side of the campaign with about 50 pages of totally steal-able ideas. The breakdown of magic in particular is a great example of laying the ground work for things by setting some boundaries and some common language while still staying fairly flexible. 


The last big chunk of the book is how Aaron set up a campaign, how he kept it going and kept people happy, and his advice on solving problems that can arise in a campaign. This is where much of the blue-booking discussion and the player archetypes discussion happen which are two of the things Strike Force is most known for. As an example of the contributions of others involved Steve Kenson gives some excellent advice on blue-booking in the age of smart phones and tablets. There is a lot of good, useful information here and the best thing about it is that it comes from actual play experience - not theory!

The only disappointment here is that a) it is a summary in many places of the campaign, not an actual-play recounting of the games and b) many known superheroes and things from other IP universes - like Battlestar Galactica - were used in the campaign, especially early on, and those have to be renamed when mentioned here so it's not always totally clear who was interacting with who (the real who) at times. The good thing is that the raw package of Aaron's notes is available apparently though I have not gone that far myself yet.

So yes, I would recommend this 100% if you've never read the original. While some of these concepts have leaked into RPG guidance in general it's still great to see them all in one place and there are undoubtedly at least a few concepts you will want to take home.

If you have the original it's a little more complicated. Did you like that book? If you didn't like it then this may not change your opinion. If you did, well, this book is a lot of what was in there, plus more. I have the original and I still bought it in hard copy and I have no regrets.


I see a lot of "GM Advice" products out there now, since PDFs and DTRPG have made it where anyone can run 15 sessions of D&D 5E and call themselves an Expert Gamemaster. This is the opposite of those products - decades of running games distilled into one book. At this point in my gaming career I don't rate most of the advice I see out there as I've been playing longer than many of the advice-givers have been alive. I need a track record to pay any attention to this kind of thing. Take it from me, this guy had one hell of a track record.

If you're actually running a game, or planning to, and would like to see how someone else actually ran a game, this is probably the best written example there is.

Some links:
(these are not affiliate links, I don't do that. They are just here for informational purposes)
There are supposed to be character files for Icons and Savage Worlds as well but I am not sure where to find those.