The War of the Supermen
Starting this month, I'll be reviewing the current crop of super-hero role-playing
games on the market, with an old gamer's eye for What Makes a Game Cool. Later,
after I've gone through the new games, I may turn to the old games and do an
uber-comparison piece. For now, though, sit back and let me be your guide into
the many worlds of super-hero gaming. . . . MF
The tagline to this game is 'Superhero Roleplaying in a World on Fire,' and
it aptly sums up the scope and intent of Godlike: What if our 'real' World War
II saw the emergence of the first super heroes? How would that have affected
our outcome? After all, in the four-color world of comic books, one has to wonder
how the Nazis could create giant Swastika-adorned robots to menace Superman
and Wonder Woman, and yet sixty years later, the general populace isn't flying
around with the aid of jet packs.
Godlike addresses that concern by scaling back the scope of the super powers
available to players. You want to fly? Cool, no problem. But a bullet to the
head will knock you out of the sky, just the same. As with any rules system,
this is tweakable, so if you really want to run Captain America and Nick Fury
against the Ratzis, you can. But doing so sidesteps a lot of what makes Godlike
Superheroes at War
The game system utilizes the seemingly ubiquitous dice pool concept: Your game
stats and your skill level are represented by a number of dice, which are rolled
to produce a success number. Ordinarily I'd pooh-pooh the dice pool, because
I'm old school, you see. Dice pools are very mushy, and in the case of super
hero games, where it's important to know that Jimmy Olson is a pushover next
to Superman, I think they are a waste of space.
Godlike, however, uses some math to set up their dice pool. When you roll a
handful of dice, you are looking for matchesótwo 7's, or three 4's, for example.
That success number is then interpreted by how fast you did your task, and how
well you did it. Depending on the result, you could get your shot off first
but hit in an ineffectual place, or you could take your time and bullseye your
target. It's quirky, interesting, and it works BECAUSE it's fuzzy. There's enough
creative interpretation there for the touchy-feely gamers and enough math, logic,
and reasoning for older, more seasoned gamers. (Confused? There is a resources
page on the Arc Dream website that has quick start rules and game play tutorials
you can download that explain it better. In fact, the website has a ton of support
material on the site and is worth a visit or two once you buy the game.)
The limiting factor of the dice pool is that no player can have higher than
a 10 in a stat or skill. And no one rolls more than 10 dice, because they are
virtually guaranteed to succeed. How this is kept in check is by limiting the
starting attributes and subsequent points use to purchase powers. 25 points
in game terms doesn't buy you much, but it does make a for a cool one-trick
character. That's not a bad thing, though; because the mortality rate is so
high, the rules encourage running squads or creating multiple characters. This
sets up some interesting dynamics, and encourages a more 'soldier at war' style
of role-play than the standard 'I've got my staff out, checking every ten feet
for traps and listening at the door' type of thing.
A World on Fire
Where Godlike really shines is the background material. This world breathes,
and includes a detailed and well-researched timeline that inserts their 'Talents'
into the grander scheme of WWII. Reading through the history, I found several
mysteries for the GM's to delineate at their leisure, or ignore if it doesn't
suit them. I like that a lot. There's plenty of flavor included, too, with well-doctored
photos and magazine covers to give a sense of what it would have been like in
the 40s, in battle, to see flying men.
The background material is nice, too, in that it sets up Arc Dream's next big
release, Wild Talents, which moves the world of Godlike forward for modern super
heroes. Ooh, talk about a legacy-style campaign.... I personally like the way
powers are explained, too. Crack the book and read about the emergence of Talents.
It's fun stuff.
Slick production values and a simple and clever system with an eye toward punching
through tanks and German machine gun nests make this a great superhero game.
Don't worry about not being able to create Captain Americaóyou'll have more
fun making invisible snipers, super fast medics, and guys who can turn into
gorillas (yeah, that's the sample character!). I wish I'd thought of that.