Favorite superhero RPGs?


I've played Mayfair's DC Heroes (1983?), TSR's Marvel Superheroes, Palladium's Heroes Unlimited, Champions, and the 2000's ICONS (original, not Assembled).

I am a HUGE proponent of the original ICONS rpg!!!!

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Wow. And people say Champions is complicated.
The play of MHRP is very straightforward on the player side, I think. For the GM, it takes a bit of time - or at least it took me several sessions - to get the hang of how to manage the Doom Pool.

Also, the rules in themselves don't do as good a job as they might of setting out ways to use Scene Distinctions. It was actually closely reading the published scenarios, and looking at the variety of ways in which they use Scene Distinctions, that helped me appreciate the full range of things that can be done with them.

Tracking all those things in play in MHR ... it sounds like a constant work load, every session.
The character sheet is laid out in a way that makes it fairly straightforward for the player to build their pool.


Staff member
I think this essay made a good point in relation to this topic, within the context of a discussion of balance and protagonism:

"Balance" might be relevant as a measure of character screen time, or perhaps weight of screen time rather than absolute length. This is not solely the effectiveness-issue which confuses everyone. Comics fans will recognize that Hawkeye is just as significant as Thor, as a member of the Avengers, or even more so. In game terms, this is a Character Components issue: Hawkeye would have a high Metagame component whereas Thor would have a higher Effectiveness component.​

There are various ways a higher "metagame" component can play out - as well as "fate points" or other "It's my lucky day"-type abilities, this can also include influence over theme or subject-matter of conflict.
I’ve seen multiple published builds for DC, Marvel & other publishers’ comic book characters for Champions/HERO over the years. Typically, the way most have handled the iconic ultra-skilled human archetype (like Batman) vs innately powerful archetypes (Superman, etc.) at the same power level (same number of build points) is that the majority of the points in the latter are personal attributes, whereas the former have LOADS of external in-setting resources.

So Batman types would have things like a trainload of skills at higher proficiency levels, great wealth, a base with multiple kinds of high-tech equipment (supercomputers, labs, etc.), vehicles, weapons, contacts, swappable gear, yada, yada yada. They might not be able to stand toe-to-toe with beings that are effectively demigods- at least, not without prep time*- but they make everyone else on the team MUCH more effective.

Well, what about Kal-el’s Fortress of Solitude? Last I checked, it’s exceedingly rare for him to use anything from it in anything but the most extreme situations- like when he dusts off the Phantom Zone Projector. So most such articles don’t give the Superman types much in the way of external resources.

* in keeping with Batman’s self-proclaimed “having a plan to deal with every superpowered being” he knows of, that would probably be an ENORMOUS Variable Power Pool that requires time and a base of operations to change what it can do.

aramis erak

Wow. And people say Champions is complicated.

I do like the scene tagging concept. It's always better to have these things explicit in one's mind, or even written out for all players to see. I can see it really helping set the scene for the group.
I'm one of those people. Champions preloads it.

Note that ALL actions in Cortex Plus/Prime are "Zero or One die from each scope layer." And most are rolled as opposed tasks. In Marvel, the GM has the doom pool. In Firefly, Smallville, or Leverage, an NPC or a pair of difficulty dice are used.

So, it's not as complex at one step more abstracted:
Describe the action.
Build a dice pool to fit the action and situation.
Roll the pool.
discard all the 1's, may take complications for plot points when you discard them.
pull two to beat the difficulty
then, the one with the most sides that isn't pulled nor discarded is the "damage" or the "effect" and sets the size of the resulting asset/complication.

An asset adds to your pool. A complication adds to the other guy's pool.
Since this is the fundamental task process... attacks impose their effect as damage, building advantages or complications uses the effect as their rating.

I've had players in firefly build assets to build a big asset for a later scene. Such as checking the workspace for passwords on post-its, and checking the IP addresses so as to be able to spoof being that terminal for the later hacking roll.

Absolutely. Claremont had the formula down. Epic fights and soap opera lives. Though I’d rather there be advice on adding soap to a traditional game than a game with designated soap mechanics. So many storygames fall flat for me because they push too narrow of a story. As much as I love Masks: A New Generation, and most other PtbA games, deciding your character’s entire arc at character creation is just weird to me and undermines the whole ethos of “play to find out.”
I couldn't disagree more. In D&D my character's arc is pretty much decided by level 3 for most classes unless I'm multiclassing; other than for ASIs (and those in 2014 D&D are minimal choice) I've made almost all the mechanical choices over my character's lifetime. In Masks (and for that matter Apocalypse World) I haven't decided my character's arc. What I've decided is what the pressures are going to be for my character; I don't even know what playbook they are going to end up as. I know Bob the Boxer has anger issues - but have no idea how he will deal with them, whether he'll deal with them and become a zen master, whether he's going to embrace them and become a Hulk, whether he'll just grow up a little and always struggle a bit, whether he's going to start self-harming to psych himself up, or what. I just know the problems are there and we're finding out what the story is.

Thomas Shey

Definitely. HERO is good at modelling a range of power levels. It's why it's my favourite system.

But, if we want to keep Hawkeye and Thor roughly on par with their comic book selves, putting them in the same situations (a battle, an espionage run, an archery contest) requires some rather specific scenario design in order to accommodate both power levels. For my money, this is something that starts to feel artificial if it happens regularly. YMMV.

You can do some jiggering here if your system allows some method of converting accuracy into effect. You just have to be willing to accept the result of that.

Thomas Shey

Champions is my first love. But,DC Heroes does simplicity and elegance best without sacrificing crunch. The logarithmic scale for everything means it can handle a huge range of power levels. A powerful-enough character can search the entire planet for a hidden opponent in one action and one opposed roll.

Though the compression at the lower end can be pretty unfortunate.

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