Thursday, August 28, 2014

#RPGaDAY 6: Favorite RPG You Never Get to Play -- DC HEROES in a Landslide

As I mentioned in the second post in this - behind schedule - series, DC Heroes is the first game I ever truly Gamemastered. I was an undergrad in college at the time and had just finished playing in a couple of remarkably well GM'd games.

There was Roger Frederick's GURPS Riverworld extravaganza that was a wonderful role playing experience and set us at odds with Horatio Herbert Kitchener. To this day, I despise Kitchener beyond all reason. There was the D&D campaign in which Rob Faust's character and mine were character was "so strong he carried hemp rope." There was also a fun Amber game I played in that demonstrated both how well that system could be run and how lame it could turnout -- all due to the diceless mechanic.

I had also read a couple of books that discussed role playing games and how to run them. The best of these were Aaron Allston's Strike Force for the Champions RPG and the stuff in The Fantasy Role Playing Gamer's Bible based on Robin Laws' writings on player types.

I was ready to run an rpg and I was in the mood for a super hero game. I had recently acquired the 2nd Edition of the DC Heroes RPG and the sheer toy factor of that boxed set convinced me that this was the super hero game I wanted to play. That and the fact that TSR's Marvel game has some really wonky bits when it comes to certain match ups. Picture for yourself what a comic book smackdown between Captain America and The Everlovin' Blue-eyed Thing looks like. Got it? That's not at all what it would be like in the TSR Marvel system. There's a lot that is good about the TSR game, but unlike Champions (and to some extent DC Heroes) having a system where Captain America can hurt The Thing isn't one of them. Oh...and depending on the Wolverine write up, he can't hurt The Thing either.

So I wanted to us the DC Heroes system, but I wanted to use it in a manner that was "comic universe neutral." My DC Heroes earth had both Marvel New York and DC Metropolis. Captain America and the Invaders joined Sandman and the Justice Society in their quest to bash Nazis around. Conversion between TSR's Marvel to the DC Heroes system was a cinch since - in my view - DC Heroes APs correlate 1:1 with Champions DCs. Using this guideline the Hulk had either a 12 Strength or a 20 depending on whether I adhered to TSR's "carrying capacity" or just converted Strength 1:1 to Champions. I did the latter and my "DC" Hulk has a 20 Strength. Using the DC system, there is little need to give him the "grows as he gets mad" mechanics one might build into a Champions character. DC's "hero points" mechanic has that covered. If the Hulk needs to hold up a mountain - ala Secret Wars - he can push his Strength and spend the points. This had the effect that some of DC's more epic heroes were slightly more powerful than their Marvel counterparts, but close enough for government work. A battle between my "DC" Hulk and Superman wouldn't be without significant collateral damage, and it wouldn't be a cake walk for Supes.

What do/did I like most about DC Heroes? What makes it special? Most of these come down to Greg Gorden's design work on the game. If you don't know Greg Gorden's name, you should. He worked on the James Bond 007 RPG, Torg, Earthdawn, DC Heroes, Deadlands, and a host of other games. The games he worked on seem to share an ability to capture "cinematic awesomeness." The Bond game has areas of expertise where the PC is so good at stuff he/she doesn't have to roll to succeed. DC Heroes has the Hero Point mechanic and open ended die rolls on doubles. Hero Points can be spent to "push" abilities, but they can also be spent to "alter the environment." Did Hawkman drop his mace and desperately needs a replacement? Spend X number of Hero Points and there might just be a crowbar on the counter. DC Heroes pushes the players to become active narrators in the game play. DC even rewarded players for creating and playing out purely narrative sub-plots, this is very much like TSR Marvels use of Karma rewards for having Peter Parker pick up the laundry.

The game is great. It has clean mechanics. It's easy to learn to play and run. But it's out of print. None of the players in my group own a copy and while it is easy to learn the basics there are some maneuvers available in combat and non-combat that are more complex in concept. They are all easy in implementation, but you have to become familiar with them. The game also has a point based build component and even with this excellent character generator program, that means homework for the players or a PC generation day and my players don't tend to like those. Oh, and they also suffer analysis paralysis with questions like "How smart are you compared to Hank Pym or Batman?"

So I never get to play the game. That's okay. There are some other great superhero games out there. The Marvel Saga game and the recent Margaret Weis Productions Marvel game are pretty darn fun too.

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