Disclaimer: A look at Supers RED without having played it. Thus, not a review but impressions.
2014 is a good year for superhero-role-playing fans with a new edition of Icons RPG, the release of Valiant Universe RPG and the upcoming releases of Worlds in Peril, Extreme Earth Superhero Campaign Setting and probably other games I’m not aware of.
One of the new titles for this year is the revised edition of Supers!, a game originally written by Simon Washbourne from Beyond Belief Games. The copyright is now in the hands of Hazard Studios who successfully crowdfunded the new edition via kickstarter.
The original game
The first Supers! is a superb lightweight game which focusses on narrative play. Its strength is the simple but robust d6 mechanic. Characters are well-rounded. They are created with stats for Resistances, Aptitudes (skills) and Powers. You have the option to take advantages or disadvantages to customize your character. Powers are personalized with Power Boosts or Power Complications. Furthermore, the game is very versatile. For attacks you can either use your Powers or Aptitudes. For defending you choose between using a Power or a Resistance with the caveat that you can’t defend with the same attribute in the same round. This makes a very dynamic gameplay though it’s narrative core doesn’t make it a tactical game.
Also, you can combine superpowered characters of different power levels using the Competency Pool. If you build a character with a lower power level, the difference in the power level grants you Competency Dice which are a bit like Fate Points as they grant you narrative control.
Another strength of the game is the ease of creating mooks and hazards for the GM.
However, the first edition needs some rules clarifications and gameplay examples. Also the layout and artwork is barebones. At last, it is lacking some extra/optional rules for vehicles, bases and others stuff.
Now: Revised Edition!
Enter Supers! Revised: 164 full-colour pages, either in PDF, softcover or hardcover (via Print on Demand). There is much more material: more powers, combat maneuvers, rules for using vehicles, creating bases, a bestiary and a slew of optional rules like dice caps, the Wild Die, use of miniatures, a random character generator and more. Generally, the game is more well-rounded.
Chapter 1 is a short introduction.
Chapter 2 explains how to play the game. Yes, that’s before character creation. The chapter begins with explaining the dice mechanic (d6s) and the character sheet. Competency Dice are of note here. They are described in a lot more detail than in the first edition and are more powerful. You can now use them to modfiy rolls, perform Power Stunts, reuse attributes and more.
Strangely, Mooks are already explained at this instance. This choice is a bit odd as character generation is handled in Chapter Three. Furthermore, Mooks are a GM device and I would have expected them in the GM chapter. (Where you can find them, too and in greater detail! Still, very unexpected to see them beforehand.)
So, Chapter 2 gives you all the good stuff, from performing actions like opposed checks, attacking, defending, combat maneuvers and ends with a nicely written example of play.
When you make a test, you roll a number of six-siders according to your attributes score. These are the same as in the original game: 4 Resistances (Composure, Fortitude, Reaction, Will), Aptitudes (i.e. Academia, Presence, Technology…) or one of your Powers. There are some clever rule changes from the first edition. Successful rolls (also: damage rolls) are now handled with a “more than 6”-mechanic. If you succed by more than six you achieve a Major Success, more than twelve is a Superior Success and so forth. The game includes a handy chart. This makes the gameplay even faster as comparisons are one of the quickest methods of task resolution.
(In the first edition, damage rolls were like this: suceed by up to x2 in your attack against the target’s defence = 1D damage, up to x3 = 2 D damage etc.)
Fighting works more or less like opposed checks: you roll against the defense of your target.
Chapter Three is about character creation (finally!). You begin with a character concept, background and origins. The game mentions some archetypes you’ll find in many superheroes universes. For instance: The Battlesuit who gains his abilites from powerful armour.
Mechanically, characters are build with a point-buy-method. Starting characters normally get a pool of 20D. This gives you street-level heroes. The GM can adjust the power level by modifying the creation dice pool.
Aptitudes are broad skill categories like “Investigation”, “Athleticism”, “Military”. Because they are mundane and not super-powered there’s a dice cap on using these. I think this is a clever choice. The logic behind it is explained in a sidebar. Despite the dice cap Aptitudes are useful. A high roll on 3D can beat a low roll of 5D but mimicks the difference between a martial arts artist vs. a hero using her superpower.
Next up is Powers, the meat of the show. I won’t get into detail, suffice to say they are waaaay more options than in the original game. A cursory glance tells me that you will be able to build most of the iconic heroes you know from commercial universes. If you’re interested, there’s a thread at rpg.net where you can find some character write-ups (and more).
Boosts make Powers more effective, for instance the boost “Area Effect”. Each boost costs 1 D. Complications are the exact opposite. They give you additional dice to spend on other things. Examples for Complications include “Always On”, “Conditional” or “Limited Use”.
The last part of character creation is choosing Advantages and/or Disadvantages. Edges like “Allies”, “Base of Operations”, “Supers Vehicle” or “Attractive” begin with a dice cost of 1D. You can use Disadvantages to buy them off, normally each one costs 1D, too. There’s the standard stuff like “Bad Luck”, “Enemy”, “Poor”.
The chapter continues with a write-up of Character Archetypes. These are ready-made characters build with a dice pool of 20D. You can use them as templates for own heroes or the GM may use them for villains.
I really like this part as it gives you a feel for the game and is just a nifty tool for players and GMs alike. Each character comes with a portrait.
Chapter Three ends with an example of character creation.
Chapter Four is the Judge’s Guide. The Judge is obviously the Game Master.
Setting target numbers is explained. Furthermore, the authors shine light on creating Mooks and Henchmen. This is where Supers! shines. It is really easy to create NPCs. Mooks just have a Mook Rating and maybe some Qualities such as a flock of Pterodactyls (4D, Qualities: Flight).
Henchmen are one step up the ladder from Mooks but are easy to build as well. The book also gives advice on how to convert Henchmen to Mooks and vice versa.
Likewise included is a small bestiary and some sample vehicles.
If the GM wants to throw some elemental challenges at the party, he can do so via the rules for Hazards. Earthquakes, wildfires and other perils can threaten citizens of your universe and provide some change from fights against supervillains.
Chapter Four also gives tips on how to run campaigns and ends with the rules for Advancement. These are divided into Minor and Major Achievements. Minor Advancements as completing the adventure but failing a main conflict grant Temporary Competency Dice. These can be spend during the next adventure. Taking part in very adventure during a story arc is an example for a Major Achievement. This gives you normal Competency Dice which you can use to increase attributes, purchase boosts etc.
There are also some setting dials for death in the game, ranging from more pulpy to grim & gritty.
Optional Rules include just that.
Appendix 1 is a glossary of terms.
Appendix 2 explains how to use minis in your game. I think it’s good to include those rules although I would not make personal use of them.
Appendix 3 is a random character generator.
The book ends with summaries (handy!), an index and several examples for character sheets.
The layout is simple and functional. Mostly it’s two columns but the authors made good use of bold text, coloured boxes and tables. The artwork is a mixed bag. While the cover looks great some of the interior artwork is more on the level of a good amateur. Furthermore, even the more professional looking pictures are mostly very dark which doesn’t look good in my POD softcover. For the most part I’m not happy with the quality of my print edition. The paper flutes because of the colour bleed. It would have been better to print on thicker (premium?) paper.
In the past I tended to favour BASH! Ultimate Edition over Supers!. BASH is a bit more tactical and while still being rules-lite it has lots of options and has clever rules. Nowadays, I’m hard pressed to decide between those two as Supers! has caught up in terms of “completeness of the game” and customizing options. Task resolution is easier than in BASH so that speaks for Supers!.
Supers! Revised manages to expand and clarify the game rules while retaining the flavour and the strengths of the first edition. If you like lightweight superhero games with a robust system and a narrative approach this is a must-buy!
If you’re not conviced try before you buy with the free Quickstart Rules.
Hazard Studios are having a sale right now: From Friday, Aug 22 to Labor Day (Sep 1), SUPERS! Revised Edition will be on sale. If you buy the soft or hard cover, you will be getting the PDF bundled with it for free.