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Friday, August 07, 2020

New Hellboy RPG Coming Your Way

In May of 2018 Mantic Games launched their Hellboy Miniature Board Game on Kickstarter to great success. The game uses simple mechanics and has some wonderful looking miniatures. So wonderful that I was very tempted to start up Hellboy RPG campaign just to put the minis to use. The dilemma I faced was what rules set to use to play a Hellboy game. I own the Hellboy Sourcebook and Roleplaying Game by Steve Jackson Games, but I've never really been satisfied with GURPS as an engine for cinematic play.

As much as I love Steve Jackson Games, and as many GURPS products as I own, it's always been hard to find a group willing to learn the extremely granular rules set. Yes, it is possible to set aside 80% of the rules and play a GURPS-Lite game with an easy to understand system, but I usually have a player who wants to fully leverage the capabilities of the system. They would like the other players to do the same and that requires taking the time to learn and take advantage of all the interactions etc., which is usually more than I can ask of most of my gaming group. It's one of those cases where the GURPS enthusiast in our group is over enthusiastic to play around with everything and thus we end up playing other games. GURPS being GURPS, and Steve Jackson Games being Steve Jackson Games, the sourcebooks are so detailed that they are useful for any system. So...that still left me with the dilemma of what system to run.

My top contenders were DC Heroes, Marvel SAGA, Tiny Supers, Modern AGE, and Gamma World (the 4e based one), but I think that's about to change.

Mantic Games announced this week, just post #GenConOnline, that they would be releasing a new Hellboy role playing game based on the D&D 5th Edition rules set

I'm always skeptical when a dominant rules set starts getting applied to any and all settings. The d20 explosion saw an overabundance of badly designed games that attempted to squeeze "round" genres in the the "square" that was 3rd edition D&D. That doesn't mean that every attempt to create a d20 game was a failure. In fact, some very creative designers at Green Ronin (Steve Kenson and crew) were able to adapt the super hero genre to a d20 system inspired mechanic quite elegantly. They did so by not adapting the source material to the d20 rules, rather by adapting the d20 rules to the milieu. Wizards of the Coast did something similar when they adapted Star Wars to d20. The Wizards of the Coast Star Wars rules changed the core rules to fit the setting. I would argue that they didn't quite go far enough, but the end result was still a very workable game.

This leaves me wondering which approach Mantic is taking. Are they trying to fit the round Hellboy setting into the square 5e rules set or are they attempting to modify the 5e rules set until it is round? Doing this allows ease of learning for players familiar with 5e, while still maintaining what makes the setting worth playing at all.

We won't be able to see the full Quickstart rules to get a clear answer to this question until the Kickstarter launches later this month, but a look at one of the pre-generated character sheets gives us a clue. Let's have a look at Mona.

From a quick glance at the character sheet, we can already see some ways in which the design team has created mechanics designed to make the core 5e foundation fit the setting rather than the other way around. I see references to "Wound Levels" and "Origin Features" that either create new mechanics or leverage existing mechanics to create new effects. That all looks promising, but I do see one element that makes me worry about the design. Take a look at the weapon damage of the B.R.P.D. Sidearm. It looks like it does 2d10 damage. That's A LOT of damage for a pistol in 5e and is enough to kill your average 2nd level character in one shot under standard 5e rules.

"But guns are lethal," you say? Well, so are swords, axes, arrows, and maces. Have you ever seen what a mace does to a ballistics gel dummy? It's not nice. The fact is that damage mechanics are set to the level of "heroism" you want a game to feel. Games have to balance slow and ponderous combat that lasts too many combat rounds with the ability of player characters to endure enough damage to feel heroic. Given that there is a "Wound" mechanic what does that mean? How does that work? How is the damage system different and will it feel "fun" for players?

These are important design considerations. Players like to feel heroic. There's a reason the most popular game systems, both wargame based and freeform, are as popular as they are and it tends to be because they facilitate heroic play. Gone are the days when most players are satisfied with fragility. I love my B/X D&D, but my players find it stressful and don't get as much enjoyment out of the system as I would like.

What does this have to do with Hellboy? I'm going to posit that most people who want to play in the Hellboy setting want to be as "Epic" as Hellboy and his team and not be the RPG equivalent of fragile red shirts. Even as a lot of agents die in the comic books. But remember, a lot of Rebels die in Star Wars and most people don't want to be the ship crew who get mowed down by Darth Vader.

Does the current game emulate this? I don't know, but the weapon damage has me worried.

That doesn't mean I'm not excited. I am. I own the old Steve Jackson rpg. I own the Hellboy Board Game, which is a lot of fun, and I'll be backing the new game when it comes.

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