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D&D 5E [Let's Read] Supers & Sorcery

Libertad

Adventurer
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Back in 2014, I ran a campaign known as Arcana High. The pitch was that the PCs were students at a world-renowned magical academy, but ended up inheriting relics which allowed them to transform into the Secret Swords, a team of masked heroes from times of yore. I’ve gone on to GM many other campaigns from then on, but even seven years later it is one of my most memorable campaigns. I used the Pathfinder system with the caveat that every PC must have levels in a full or partial spellcasting class, and the Secret Sword relics automatically granted Big Six bonuses along with anti-divination and disguise abilities to better maintain a secret identity. Topping this all off was my own feat-like progression of special abilities derived from superhero tropes. For this I drew influence from magical items rather than class features, so as to at once reduce the Christmas Tree effect while also allowing for meaningful progression. Furthermore, I had a more focused sense of what I wanted the game to be; I knew that things in Pathfinder got crazy past 12th level, so I sought to keep things in the setting (including the larger threats) within this scale while still doing my best to emulate “larger than life” adventures. In all but the final arc PCs still had regular concerns of balancing school life with magical vigilantism. And while they were talented enough to handle themselves, several ‘mid-level’ NPC allies they made along the way could still usefully contribute in smaller ways to their adventures.

While I’d like to think that I did an adequate job with the tools that I had, if I were to run Arcana High again I would not use Pathfinder or a D&D system for that matter. Even back then I realized that I was fighting against the rules in order to better fit genre constraints. Which naturally make me concerned about how Supers & Sorcery handles this, and for an Edition that is notably lower-powered than Pathfinder. Most superhero RPGs in general are not class-based, instead providing a point-based toolkit to build one’s character. Secondly, the power levels of superheroes vary wildly depending on the characters in question and genre. Thirdly, the limitations of race mean that choosing more exotic options are out of the question unless you’re using a 3rd party supplement or starting at a higher level. You can’t expect to run a D&D Superhero game without someone asking at some point if they can play as a dragon, or maybe even a Treant that sounds like a monotone Vin Diesel. Fourth, the reliance upon Vancian rest refresh rates and accumulation of spells and items means that it’s harder to emulate a single-themed character like the Flash or one who’s not a gadget-user, in that you’re bound to pick up tangential abilities over time. There’s also the fact that the core abilities of many superheroes are at-will features, and the pacing between battles and damage recovery don’t play well in the endurance run dungeon crawl that is D&D.

Fifthly, one trick pony character types often boil down to martials making repeat attacks rather than something more interesting. For example, if I were to emulate the Hulk in Champions, Masks, or Mutants & Masterminds, the systems in place easily let my character pick up something big and throw it, pick up someone else and wield them as a weapon, let them stomp the ground and create a shockwave, use super-strength to leap really far, and various other effects beyond just punching someone hard. The RPGs in question all do this very differently, but the martial/caster divide is notably absent in superhero media for a variety of reasons. And then of course there is Godbound, which is an OSR version of Exalted that does away with many D&D tropes in order to better emulate the “PCs are divine heroes” flavor.

Last but not least, superheroes as a genre are incredibly broad. Even from the same publisher and era, they have very different set-ups and aspects. Peter Parker’s comics mostly detail an otherwise normal young man whose down-to-earth worries of schooling, his job at the Daily Bugle, and Aunt May help emphasize his grounded nature of a “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.” The X-Men focuses on themes of prejudice and the fear of humanity being upstaged by hyper-evolved mutants, with said mutants trying to find their place in a hostile world. Then there’s the Silver Surfer, a space-traveling artificial life form who has trouble relating to Earth at all and often acted as a voice of reason against our petty, backwards ways during the Silver Age of Comics. Each of these characters have different levels of power, but strong attempts at emulating their comics into RPG form will result in very different systems and settings unless one goes for a ‘generic’ approach.

With all that being said, I find combining superhero aesthetics with 5th Edition to be a tall order. Supers & Sorcery doesn’t seem to be aping any specific ‘style’ of superhero as mentioned above, instead billing itself in the broadest terms possible. As such this puts it on the level of something like the “build your own genre” of Champions vs. the more focused RPGs such as Masks. And even games such as Champions have the sense to put Spider-Man and Superman on different power tiers. More so than Pathfinder, Bounded Accuracy leads to a smaller power curve, closer to the “street level” than cosmic level that some superheroes can attain. I get that 5e compatibility sells books as a publishing strategy, but that doesn’t necessarily speak to the strength of the system. Throughout this review I’m going to be keeping the above in mind.

Sorry if that ended up as a bit of a rant. But I wanted to outline what I feel Supers & Sorcery has to contend with, and what the likeliest questions would-be readers are going to have about the stories one can make in its world.

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Supers & Sorcery is just as much a settingbook as it is one of crunch. It centers on the city of Beacon, a bustling fantasy metropolis sitting at the nexus of a bunch of planar gateways home to all sorts of people. Various neighborhoods are themed around the various Ages of Comic Books, or designations of popular tropes and trends of real-world superhero tales. Golden Age is the emerging WW2 genre with strong influences from pulp predecessors, Silver Age is more light-hearted with sci-fi themes, Bronze Age is gritty antiheroes, ninjas, and...wait, the author is confusing Bronze Age with Iron Age. The Bronze Age of Comics was in the 70s, when the genre took a more mature turn with the unshackling of the Comics Code Authority. It was strongly marked by social change, such as more superheroes of color, more explicit left-wing political commentary, and the ‘powering down’ of some of the more ridiculous Silver Age antics. The Iron Age was post-Watchmen, which was more mature in the sex and violence sort of way. The Modern Age is thus defined in this book as a super-vague timeframe which combines elements of the previous Ages.

There’s also a full-page Dedication to Chadwick Boseman, talking about the actor’s influence in the superhero genre.

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Chapter 1: Character Options

The first few chapters of Supers & Sorcery focus on the player-focused side of options. We get two new races thrust upon us: the Chloryfolk, who are a race of sapient music-loving plants. Their base traits include +2 Wisdom, being able to rest faster to spend Hit Dice while maintaining contact with sunlight, and proficiency with the Performance skill and 2 musical instruments. They have 6 subraces reflective of their native region along with +1 to an appropriate ability score; for example, Aquatic grants the ability to breathe underwater and a swim speed along with speaking with undersea life.

The other race is the Gnobold, a rare and new species in Beacon who are all the children of a gnomish-kobold couple and effectively an extended family. They gain +2 Dexterity, have Darkvision, advantage on all mental saves vs magic, limited telepathy in the form of mumbling, and advantage on attack rolls when within 5 feet of an ally. The two subraces include Anointed Gnobold, which grants +1 Wisdom and the ability to grant the attack roll and magic save advantages to adjacent allies 1/rest, and Craft Gnobold which grants proficiency with tinker’s tools and land vehicles but can also make a kit-bashed simple mechanical device during a short rest.

Origins reflect your PC superhero’s Origin Story, aka the source of their powers. The setting of Beacon has 4 major sources of superpowers: alien heritage, magic, science, and extraordinary skill. You get 6 Origin Points to spend as you wish among the categories, and gain 3 more at 11th level. Each source has a small list of abilities ranked from 1-4 points. Most of the features are rather minor things at 1-2 points (learn 1-3 cantrips, bonus language, darkvision and nonflight speed, etc), although features in the 3-4 range tend to be more significant (flight speed, resistance to 2 energy damage types, bonus spells, Expertise as per a Bard or Rogue, etc).

*But one specific new source of powers, arkwave energies, are not listed among them, and are in fact part of the new Archon class. I feel that this is an oversight, and this isn’t the first time I’ve seen things in this book that could use a second editing pass.

The book is rather vague as to whether Origins are meant to work in tandem or as a replacement for Races and Backgrounds. Normally one would think that they add onto it, but as the book brings up the idea that the GM can use them as replacements, it thus begs the question. Honestly Origins have some nice features, but cannot really make up for the ability score bonuses and features that races provide, much less the bonus skills and equipment of backgrounds. This is one of the weaknesses of 5th Edition: in Pathfinder, one could play as a monstrous race by using their Challenge Rating as a rough baseline for their effective level, and there’s an unbalanced yet weighty system for creating new races. For Godbound, race doesn’t really matter, and the Words of divine power one gains access to are broad and powerful enough to replicate a wide variety of concepts. And in actual superhero RPGs, the benefits of species are bought as superpowers just like anything else.

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The Archon is the new class for Supers & Sorcery. They are the product of supernatural arkwaves which spread across Beacon every 20 years.* Archons are capable of instilling other people with superpowers, making them a valuable commodity. They feel a strong pull towards some ideal or virtue, which also manifests in the forms their powers take.

*the book notes that they spread farther than the city, among all the worlds of the Ring of Virtue.

The Archon has 1d8 Hit Die, is proficient in light armor, simple weapons, alchemy kits, Constitution and Charisma saves, and chooses three skills from a list of mostly physical and charismatic choices along with some cerebral ones such as Arcana, History, and Nature. At 1st level they are immune to disease, their Strength and Constitution scores cannot be reduced by any means, 1/rest they can enhance their senses to grant advantage on the next Investigation or Perception check made in an hour, and can communicate telepathically with intelligent creatures within 60 feet.

At 2nd level they gain a Warlockesque progression of Empowerments which are special abilities they can temporarily grant to others. They also get a Presence Attack which is an at-will ranged ability that deals 2d6 force damage +1d6 every 2 levels afterwards. Alternatively (and this is a permanent decision) an Archon can instead make their Presence Attack a melee one, gaining proficiency with martial weapons and use Charisma modifier for the attack and damage of all weapon attacks, along with +1d6 to +4d6 bonus force damage made with such attacks depending on their level.

At 3rd level they choose one of 3 Principalities which serve as subclasses, while at 5th level they can spend a reaction to reduce oncoming damage by half their Presence Attack die (or the choice of gaining Extra Attack instead for more martial builds). 6th level they gain temporary hit points after a long rest, and at 9th level they can cast Spiritual Weapon as a bonus action but at the cost of having their Presence Attack damage halved. Their later class features are more utility in nature: at 10th they gain enhanced movement of at-will flight, parkour (Dash as bonus and advantage on Acrobatics/Athletics), or teleportation whose uses are limited by short rest. At 13th they can speak and understand all languages, at 15th gain proficiency in Strength saving throws (Intelligence if already proficient), at 17th can grant their enhanced movement to an ally, at 18th can use their Charisma score in place of a die roll result 1/long rest, and at 20th level they can Empower two creatures at once with the same use and can also permanently Empower others.

The Principalities represent common feel-good virtues. Hope allows the Archon to summon mirror-image echoes which have telepathic contact, and grant various boons such as advantage on saves vs charm/frighten conditions to nearby allies, the echoes becoming automatically Empowered when an ally is Empowered, and gain advantage on attack rolls and bonus damage when fighting next to allies. Compassion is all about defense and healing, granting a limited use healing touch which restores hit points equal to the Presence Attack die, advantage on Medicine checks and effectively always having a healer’s kit on hand, can grant temporary hit points to nearby allies 1/long rest, and can end a variety of negative Conditions on allies benefitting from the healing touch. Principality of Justice are offensively focused, performing criticals with Presence Attacks on 19-20, the ability to push away and knock prone opponents if the Presence Attack is the variant melee option, count as one size category larger when it’s advantageous to the Archon, can create a gravity-warping ark field that can grapple multiple opponents and impose disadvantage on all attack rolls made against nearby targets 1/long rest, and a suicide ark bomb that deals AoE damage if the Archon is dropped to 0 hit points 1/long rest.

Empowerments are abilities which are learned as the Archon levels up. They start with 2 at 2nd level and gain 2 more at 5th, 11th, and 17th level and gain a final 9th Empowerment at 20th level. There are 20 Empowerments to choose from and their respective durations differ: most last for 1 minute, but others can last for 10 minutes or even hours. They include things such as having a creature treat their weapon attacks as magical, advantage on initiative rolls, gaining a special ranged elemental attack, resistance vs a certain damage type, flight, limited regeneration, and alternate forms such as etherealness, increased/reduced size, and shapeshifting into a CR 1 or lower creature of the Beast type. Archons cannot empower themselves, only others.

As a class the Archon feels odd to me. They seem to be the setting’s “special shtick” a la Eberron’s Artificer in that they are a reflection of a societal archetype. But in terms of superheroes they are a bit limited in being an “energy blaster” as their primary capability. Which in the world of Dungeons & Dragons is also the most common magic-user archetype for beginning players, which doesn’t really wow me. The granting of special abilities to allies is a nifty one, although as the Archon cannot Empower themselves there're only so many superhero archetypes they can emulate.

Speaking of which, there is one new subclass for every PHB class, each one’s features being an obvious callout to some notable Marvel/DC character.

Path of Growth Barbarian turns into the Hulk. When you rage you increase 1 size category along with enlarged personal equipment, reach, and +1d4 bonus damage as the initial feature. They can eventually grapple creatures of any size, gain advantage on Intelligence checks in interactions with Large and larger-sized creatures,* gain advantage on attacks vs smaller creatures, and the capstone ability imposes the Frightened condition on hostile creatures that start their turn within 10 feet of them.

*which is weird as Intelligence skills are more or less internal, i.e. what the characters knows vs what they can cause other creatures to do. Unless it’s meant to make them more easily identify giant monsters? Either way strange wording

College of Soundwaves Bard manipulates raw sound for a variety of purposes. They begin with resistance to thunder damage, learn the Thaumaturgy cantrip but can only use the booming voice feature if learned in this way, and gain proficiency in Persuasion or Insight. They also can spend Bardic Inspiration to subtract from a creature’s attack roll or add to a target’s saving throw roll if a hostile creature uses a verbal component spell within 60 feet. Later features include 2d6 to 4d6 bonus damage on all spells and attacks that deal thunder damage, can let a limited number of creatures within the AoE of said attacks auto-succeed on relevant saves as well as suffering no damage, and the capstone ability lets them create a sphere of silence at will and can mess with a target’s action economy by messing up their inner ear orientation by causing dizziness.

The Emotion Domain Cleric is an empath, capable of sensing and manipulating emotions. Their bonus spells are mostly buffs and debuffs (fear, confusion, calm emotions) along with some utility (zone of truth, locate creature). They initially gain proficiency with Insight and Persuasion and can grant temporary hit points to allies during a short rest by expending spell slots, Their later features include a Channel Divinity that can instill indifference or enragement (6th level) in a target, impose disadvantage on the saving throws of a target that attacked them, and their capstone ability allows them to spend a reaction to make an attacking target autofail a relevant roll.

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Circle of the Mark Druids focus on a more specific kind of shapeshifting, honing the abilities of a particular animal type. They choose a specific CR 1 or lower Beast as their ‘mark,’ which grants additional features on top of the normal Wildshape boons when the druid takes their form. Such options include +1 AC, gaining an alternate movement speed based on the creature's form, certain minor senses (darkvision or advantage on Perception), or dealing bonus damage with natural weapons equal to Wisdom modifier on top of Strength/Dexterity. They also have Animal Friendship and Speak with Animals prepared as bonus spells, and their later features include improving their base traits (more AC, better movement, blindsight, etc), the ability to gain one creature-specific special ability of another wildshape form when shaped into their Mark, and their capstone ability grants them a bonus trait as well as the ability to cast Conjure Fey 1/long rest that takes the form of a pack of animals of the Marked beast.

The Super Martial Archetype is basically a poor man’s Superman. Your initial ability grants you Super Strength which...grants advantage on Strength checks and can add double your Strength modifier to attacks made with weapons while grappling. At 7th level you gain Super Vision which...grants you double proficiency on Insight and Perception. At 10th level you gain Super Speed which...lets you cast haste 1/short rest. 15th is Super Flight, where you gain a flying speed equal to your walking speed. At 18th you gain an at-will ability to use a reaction and reduce any form of damage by 1d10 + half Fighter level.

Way of the Steel Strike Monk turns you into a cyborg...no wait, it just gives you a magitech arm. You initially gain proficiency with tinker’s tools and an artifact which grafts onto or replaces a limb. You need to maintain said artifact daily or it suffers an Exhaustion-like Disrepair that gets worse over time.* But using the artifact with a Flurry of Blows allows the monk to add both their Strength and Dexterity modifiers to damage, and can cast Light but only on their artifact. Their later features include the ability to spend ki points to cast Acid Arrow, Scorching Ray, or Shatter and can increase the effective level by spending more ki points. They can also learn to cast Protection from Energy 1/rest, and their capstone ability lets them store up to 6 unused ki points into their artifact during long rests and can spend a reaction to cast one of their spells as an opportunity attack when a creature would provoke such an attack.

*wow as though being a poor man’s Iron Man wasn’t cool enough!

Oath of Gesh Paladins are Aquamen clones of all things. They make an oath to the Lord of Water, and are tasked with protecting the seas and their ecosystems. Their bonus spells are mostly utility and nature themed (create or destroy water, misty step, dominate beast, etc) and their Channel Divinity can let them add Charisma on top of Strength for melee attack rolls, advantage on Strength to push objects, and can impose disadvantage on attack rolls targeting adjacent allies. Their later features include an aura that grants resistance to cold damage and can move freely in water without penalty, casting Insect Plague that takes the form of a moray eel swarm, and their capstone ability can summon a CR 8 or less Water Elemental.

Evenfall Rider Rangers were attacked by a vampire or werewolf, partially gaining their abilities but also a burning desire for justice/vengeance against the species that wounded them so. They gain vampires and lycanthropes as bonus favored enemies, add 1d6 damage once per turn on all weapon attacks, gain darkvision, and gain Find Steed as a known spell. However, they are saddled with a curse depending on whether they’re a partial vampire or lycanthrope that activates on a failed Wisdom save once every 4 days or full moon respectively. Vampires gain an overwhelming urge to feed upon blood, while lycanthropes must hunt for prey and gain 1 level of exhaustion.* Later features include gaining bonus known spells depending on type (suggestion, invisibility, vampiric touch, and the like), gaining advantage on grapple checks vs vampires and lycanthropes and against the Charmed condition, can take half or no damage from AoE effects on failed and successful saves, and their capstone abilities cause all CR 5 and lower Court of Empty Night members to be afraid of the Ranger, and a bonus spell (confusion or faithful hound). Their final capstone ability lets them make 3 bonus weapon attacks 1/long rest when attacking a foe with 25% or fewer HP total (Ranger always knows the percentage of all targets) and stuns them if they’re still standing.

*What is up with archetypes imposing penalties now?!

Gatekeeper Rogues learn how to teleport for a player-defined reason (choose your choice of comic book logic upon gaining the archetype) and find novel uses for it. They initially can teleport anywhere within the 5 foot reach of a target whenever they hit with a melee weapon and this doesn't count against their movement. Their later features let them cast Blink, Misty Step, Dimension Door, and eventually Plane Shift and Teleport a limited amount of times per day (fewer times for higher level spells). They can use Dimension Door against unwilling and grappled opponents, inflicting Sneak Attack damage automatically when teleported in such a manner.

So umm...where’s that at-will teleport? I don’t expect it to be like the spell, but even short-range jumps are pretty iconic! Heck there are official PHB archetypes that let you do this outside of combat!

Red Right Hand Sorcerer Bloodlines are born as one of two surviving twins, possessed of the uncanny ability to absorb luck from others and use it for themselves as a result of fiendish influence. They initially can speak Abyssal, Infernal, gain double proficiency on all Charisma checks with fiends, and as a reaction can impose disadvantage on a single roll of a target within 60 feet a limited number of times (CHA modifier) per long rest. Their later features include the ability to spend Sorcery Points to add +1 to +3 to a spell attack roll,* 1d4 to 5d4 bonus damage,** or +1 to +3 Save DC of a spell*** 1/long rest. They can later take the form of a bat-winged demon, imposing the Frightened condition on nearby hostile targets, and their capstone ability lets them spend 7 Sorcery Points to grant additional features to said demonic form such as ignoring Frightened condition immunity, gaining flight speed, and a broad GM Fiat “perform acts of basic magic without expending a spell slot.”

*nice!
**cool!
***that’s overpowered!

I’m unsure of what comic book character this bloodline’s based. It feels closer to something you’d find in a regular D&D setting.

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Warlocks with the Cosmic Light Otherworldly Patron are chosen by a powerful figure to enforce justice in the multiverse via the wielding of arkwave light energy. Their expanded spell list is mostly utility and defense-focused (daylight, flame strike, spirit guardians, etc), and their initial features grant them advantage on saves vs the Frightened condition and can deal 1d4 bonus force damage on their first attack made after the condition ends for every round that it lasted. Later features grant them a 30 foot flying speed (this kicks in early in comparison to other subclasses, at 6th level), immunity to inhaled toxins, resistance to force damage and immunity to the Charmed condition, and their Capstone Ability (appropriately-named A Corps of Your Own) lets them summon 10 illusory copies 1/long rest when they cast Eldritch Blast, and each one can make a single 1d12 force damage attack while also granting the warlock effect line of sight of everything within the illusory copies’ senses.

We also get a new Pact of the Ring for Warlocks with this subclass, granting them a magical ring that can be replaced via a 1 hour ritual. It grants the warlock the ability to turn their Eldritch Blasts into sustained forms up to 10 cubic feet in size, and can be maintained indefinitely and deal said cantrip’s damage to all who touch them (but otherwise can’t do anything else besides damage). Higher levels let them maintain more such shapes, and at 17th level can form it into a single construct.

A Green Lantern Corps patron is a cool idea, but I cannot help but feel that they would make a more appropriate Paladin. Additionally, said superhero’s core feature of being able to make energy objects isn’t replicable with said class and Pact. There’s no mention of if said Eldritch Blast shapes can sustain a certain level of weight, to what degree they are transparent for cover purposes, and if said shapes can mimic the function of ‘real’ objects.

Wizard School of Logomancy is devoted to the magic of words, and also has more traditional stage magic aesthetics; so it’s Zatanna. The initial features include the ability to ‘reverse’ the damage type of a cast spell (acid becomes poison, fire becomes cold, etc) and deals 1d4 to 1d12 bonus damage depending on wizard level when cast in such a way, and can teleport as part of their movement and leave an illusory double behind that is mistaken for the caster on a failed Intelligence save. Later features include the ability cast spells without somatic components provided they have an immediate casting time,* attempts at Counterspelling the wizard’s spells require an opposed Insight/Deception check in order to work, can deflect hostile spells back at the caster by speaking the verbal components backwards, and their capstone ability lets them create an AoE hallucination that imposes a variety of damaging debuffs based on a random roll of the target’s perception (wrapped in chains and submerged in water, being sawn in half, etc).

*the rules do not have an ‘immediate’ casting time. They’re separated into actions, or by minutes/hours for longer casting times.

There are four new Spells in this chapter. Heroic Landing is like Feather Fall but generates an AoE shockwave attack upon landing; Ice Cube is a cold-based version of Fireball but with a cube-shaped AoE; Twin Powers Activate has to be cast by 2 people with knowledge of the spell, transforming one of them into a CR 5 or less Beast, the other into a CR 5 or less Elemental. Finally, X-Ray Vision allows one to see up to 15 feet through objects and barriers but is blocked by common metal and lead.

Alter Egos are Super & Sorcery’s backgrounds, representing common civilian identities. There’s 12 of them, and quite a few have highly similar if not identical skill and equipment lists to PHB ones, albeit renamed to be specific to Beacon-specific institutions and trades. Some of the more interesting ones include Beacon Herald Reporter (choice of knowledge-based skill proficiencies, proficient with Forger’s Kit, and access to library and old newspaper archives), Lamplighter (city watch, Thieves’ Tools or Gaming set, plus choice of History, Insight, Investigation, or Persuasion, along with various minor favors from people due to local contacts), Mogul (come from a rich family or came into wealth, one tool proficiency of choice, Insight & Persuasion, and can craft magic items in 1/3rd the time when making use of company resources), and Shattered Son (anti-establishment group, gain Sleight of Hand & Stealth, proficiency in Disguise Kit & Thieves’ Tools, and knowledge of fast and discrete routes, a hidden safehouse, and patrol routes of law enforcement).

This chapter ends with two Feats. Resolute requires one to have 13 or higher Constitution, but allows one to immediately regain hit points upon reaching 0 hit points by spending half their remaining Hit Die; this is a limited-use ability, and unlike rest-based refresh rates for PCs is recharged on a 5 or 6 on a d6 roll every long rest, more akin to monster abilities. The other feat, Super Flight, increases one’s Dexterity by 1 and a flight speed equal to one’s base walking speed.

The ability to fly (and swim, burrow, and other unconventional movements) indefinitely is one of the most common abilities in superhero comics. However, it does raise the question of former class features which grant flight. There’s also a number of magic items that grant a similar ability, ranging from Uncommon to Rare. As flight from S&S’s new classes are often gained at higher levels, and don’t add to existing movement rates nor does this feat, it does beg the question of what happens if this feat becomes superfluous or tradable when the class feature is gained.

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Chapter 2: Sidekicks

A mere 3 pages long, this chapter hardly qualifies for the title. Owing to how so many superheroes have constant companions, sidekicks are an optional system for NPC allies which players can level up and build like PCs but with special rules.

Sidekicks level up congruently to PCs, but at a halved rate. Instead of using typical classes they have Sidekick levels but can gain proper class levels after their 3rd sidekick level. Sidekick levels are notably weaker than real classes, with a mere d6 Hit Die, a starting proficiency bonus of +1, and limited proficiency in a single language, skill, tool, and simple weapon. At levels 2 through 10 they gain their choice of a single benefit such as more individual weapon/armor/tool proficiencies, ability score increases, cantrips or 1st-level spells, and proper class features of a real class equal to half their level. Their proficiency bonus grows to +2 at 3rd level and +3 at 10th level.

I gotta say, these rules are rather underwhelming. I’ve seen better rules in Matt Colville’s Strongholds & Followers for NPC allies that can grow alongside party members. And although they're much newer releases, the Sidekick rules from the official Tasha's Cauldron of Everything and Spheres of Power/Might’s expansion do the same thing but better. There Sidekicks are inferior to true PCs, but have more notable increases over the course of play.

Chapter 3: Variant Rules

At 2 pages this section’s even shorter than Sidekicks! Six new rules are provided to give a more superheroic feel for 5e games, and thus an intended higher level of power. The first rule allows PCs to spend the Hit Die to add the rolled result (no CON modifier bonus) to d20 rolls, damage rolls, and even to subtract the result of an enemy’s successful saving throw vs one of their attacks/spells/etc. Another rule allows the spending of Inspiration to cast a spell at a slot one level higher or to gain access to a class feature 2 levels higher for an undetermined amount of time. A third rule allows PCs to voluntarily take on levels of Exhaustion to gain advantage on attack rolls/saving throws or +5 to a single ability score for 3 rounds. Or to cause a target’s successful save to auto-fail. The fourth rule causes a “knockback” effect on critical hits where targets are flung through the air and fall prone as well as taking bonus damage if they come into contact with a solid surface. A fifth rule causes PCs to be able to take an instant short rest whenever they change into or out of their costumed identity, and long rests whenever they foil a supervillain’s plot. The final rule takes the Minion system from 4th Edition where enemies designated as “mooks” have only 1 hit point but their stats are otherwise unchanged.

A lot of these rules tend to give static increases to abilities vs more thematic changes. I do like the one-hit Minion idea, although some need work like the Inspiration use having a specific duration. Another thing I would’ve liked is a kind of scalable table of magnitude for higher power levels of superheroes, like the Hulk and Superman being able to lift entire buildings. For example at Tier 1 (1st-4th) you are street-level crime fighters and use the base guidelines for D&D, but at Tier 4 (17th-20th) you can blow up asteroids with your fists.

Thoughts So Far: The new material has left me unimpressed and only reinforced my concerns that Superhero D&D is better off using another ruleset in order to properly emulate genre conventions. The sample class archetypes are at once too unbalanced and too restrictive at emulating the diversity of character archetypes that are part and parcel of superhero fiction. Although there were attempts at opening things up in regards to race and origin, the inability to play actual monsters and more fantastical creatures (conceptually similar if not mechanically identical) that you’d expect in Superhero D&D is another point against its favor.

Join us next time as we cover the setting proper in Part 2: A World of Heroes!
 
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Davies

Hero
I’m unsure of what comic book character this bloodline’s based. It feels closer to something you’d find in a regular D&D setting.
Hellboy, mixed with a bit of Etrigan the Demon, I think. The "survivor of a pair of twins" thing also points to John Constantine.
 

jayoungr

Legend
I suspect this supplement is more enjoyable if one doesn't look at it as primarily a superhero game. That may sound confusing, so let me explain: It seems like its goal is less "the superhero genre recreated using D&D rules" and more "D&D with superhero-type flavor infused." If you stop judging it by how well it recreates the superhero genre, it will look a lot better.
 

I said several times in the past the WotC's dream after D&D is the ultimate d20 system for superheroes. A lot of fandom would buy those books to create their homebred world as fanfic. My suggestion about a D&D/superhero crossover or mash-up is a nerfed reboot of the famous characters, something like in the comic RWBY league Justice.

The heroes from the games, RPGs and videogames, are different from the comics because those are designed for a balance between power and weakeness, and these may become boring Mary-Sue too easily. The power balance is even harder when the game has got levels as D&D and practically all the no-shooter MMOs. My advice for the comics publishers is a reboot/mash-up designed to be adapted into a game, even when lots of characters to be nerfed.


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Libertad

Adventurer
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Chapter 4: Ghaistala and the Ring of Virtue

This covers the “big picture” history of the world of Ghaistala, as well as common religions and the prominent superhero group known as the Portaleers.

Ghaistala had divine icons who rose out of nothingness, much like any typical D&D world. The Titans embodied seven virtues, with concepts such as Intellect, Honor, Friendship, and Duty. They created planets in a solar system they dubbed the Ring of Virtue, each taking a personal celestial body as their home. Ghastaila was not claimed by any Titans and civilization grew from the flourishing life. But a foul power of evil nonexistence known as Nul arose, spreading chaos in an event known as the Maddening. Paragon, one of the Titans, managed to save reality but at a terrible cost known as the Toll. Paragon died, civilization fell into ruin, and the planet Kkryt shattered into a field of asteroids. The surviving Titans built a memorial to their fallen kin’s example called Beacon, which sent a signal to worlds beyond the Ring of Virtue. Portals from other worlds and planes opened up, and people settled in the area, turning the memorial into a city worthy of Paragon’s example.

The planets bside Ghaistala have life and are inhabitable, but due to their distance and necessity of magical travel not much is known about them by the general public. They do have cool brief descriptions such as Starcyte which is said to have a massive planet-spanning city, or the forest planet of Gotmah which holds storehouses of lore managed by the titan Intellect. The planet of Ghaistala proper is not well explored beyond Beacon’s valley; beyond the Protectorate Peaks live colossal monsters ranging from giants, dragons, and kaiju who occasionally breach the mountains to cause trouble in Beacon. There’s also a unique pseudo-kryptonite element known as Paragite which can weaken those empowered by arkwave energy based on duration of exposure, with in-game effects ranging from halved damage to unconsciousness.

The Titans are like gods and can appoint divine champions; even Paragon’s ideals can be instilled in people. There're seven Titans to choose from, and they have every non-evil alignment represented save for Chaotic Neutral along with a decent assortment of domains. Beyond these beings there are other gods, including now-forgotten old indigenous deities of Ghaistala who are said to be sleeping in the sky, as well as the faiths from portal-drawn immigrants both old and new. A few cultural myths and festivals are also detailed, such as the belief that the other planets are heavens where devotees of the appropriate Titan go to serve them and rest, or the Awakening Festival which is held annually to commemorate the 20-year pulses of arkwaves which grant people superpowers. Every 20th year the festival’s held after the pulse so that people can demonstrate their newfound abilities.

The Portaleers are Beacon’s oldest and most famous superhero team, modeled and named off of the seven Titans. Their original team was made up of otherworldly immigrants, but in future generations they have passed their Mantles on to future worthy candidates upon their retirement or death. The Mantles are special artifacts bearing powers related to the associated Titan, and each member’s team name follows this model: “The Mantle of Honor, the Mantle of Paragon, etc.”

Sadly no game stats are given for the Portaleers, but we do have writeups on their backstories, personality, and overall power sets along with artwork for each of them. The Mantle of Paragon is a two-fisted alchemist who once treated the former Mantle of Paragon at her clinic; the Mantle of Honor is a kobold warrior and son of a barbarian chieftain out in the Nul Wastes who finds his responsibilities between his tribe and the city divided at times; the Mantle of Intellect was born into a family of noble mages but dedicated himself to becoming “Elven Batman” when he discovered he had no magical talent; the Mantle of Willpower was a sidekick to the superhero who bore the Mantle before him, and has the ability to turn her body into any stone or mineral she comes into contact with; the Mantle of Friendship is a gnome with super-speed; the Mantle of Heart is a tiefling bard whose blindness caused her to gain an appreciation for the subtleties of music; and the Mantle of Duty is a half-living, half-undead archeologist who can control weather and cosmic forces. Finally there’s Docent, a golem advisor who takes care of the management of the Portaleer’s headquarters in Paragon’s Peak.

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Chapter 5: City Gazetteer

Beacon is called the City of Heroes not just for the Portaleers. Be they mundane or magical, empowered by arkwaves, science, or sorcery, Beacon has a knack for drawing the best and most valiant figures from across the planes, inspiring ever more generations of do-gooders in their example. In spite of its unique protectors, Beacon is a dangerous city, full of crime and corruption within and threatened by outside evils as well.

Beacon is a vertical city sitting on a bay at the southern end of an unnamed western continent, with some outlying regions and communities. The city itself is a democratic council system where local neighborhoods elect people to the Senate. Public servants known as lamplighters perform typical law enforcement duties and must live inside the neighborhoods they police. Its prison system focuses on restorative justice over retributive justice, meaning that most jails have centers of learning and recreation to help inmates rehabilitate, and only the most unrepentant and violent criminals end up in the Resolute Redoubt super-jail or exiled beyond the Protectorate Peaks.

Beacon’s major sections are separated into four levels. Lowcity is primarily lone-income, industrial, and is home to 40% of the population. It is associated with crime and corruption and various crime syndicates and crooked cops congregate here, although most of its residents are more or less normal people in not-so-deal situations. Smugglers are known to ply their trade among massive stalactites in a neighborhood known as Titetown, while word around town is that the Paragite Pub is where to go if you want to find a fence or an ear to the ground on the goings=on in Lowcity.

Serenity is the artisan’s quarter of Beacon and home to 30% of its population. Mostly middle and working class, it is most famous for the Crater, a ruinous expanse of broken foundation from an old supervillain battle. The place goes unrepaired as superheroes use it to lure villains and monsters there for minimal risk of collateral damage and injury to bystanders. Serenity’s also home to the Public Library and Archive which has advanced magitechnology recordings in addition to books and scrolls, and private social gatherings and entertainment such as the multi-dimensional Club 52 and the Kobold Club are home to more typical fantasy adventurer “hero for hire” types and hard-boiled detectives.

Argentum Square is a governmental neighborhood, devoted to scholarship and civic administration. Home to 25% of the population, it houses the overworked Justicarium courthouse, the Portal Plaza which sees the majority of Beacon’s otherworldly immigrants, and the Library of the Spire where some of Beacon’s greatest minds study, debate, and research...both legitimate projects and more troubling lines of inquiry.

Paragon’s Peak is home to the highest-class 5% of Beacon. From this neighborhood people can get a holistic view of the city below from Paragon’s Overlook, or look to the stars above at the Godswatch observatory. The Atrium of Lights is the headquarters of the Portaleers, with the surrounding trees the only place casting shadows of any real size. The Resolute Redoubt is the neighborhood’s largest mark of shame, a super-prison housing Beacon’s most dangerous and unrepentant criminals too dangerous to be sent into exile.

The Protectorate Peaks are technically not part of Beacon, but are included in this chapter nonetheless. Widely considered the final frontier of civilization bordering wildlands filled with monsters of Leviathan proportions, the Peaks are home to a secret fortress known as Hope’s Bastion. The Bastion is manned by four regular occupants who are superheroes from an alternate timeline where a villain known as the Warmonger destroyed Beacon with an army of brainwashed Kaiju. They also have access to Photon Rifles and Arkwave Pulse Grenades, technology developed from this futuristic timeline.

Although the text earlier teased at the major sections being inspired by the different comic book eras, I’m having trouble matching them up. One would assume Lowcity to be Iron Age with its systemic corruption, but the Kobold Club feels a bit closer to Golden Age pulp sensibilities. They come off much more as typical neighborhoods in a fantasy city, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it does feel like a case of telling over showing.

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Chapter 6: Regional Gazetteer

This details the outlying regions beyond Beacon. A rather short chapter, the individual descriptions are rather brief and home to but a few adventure hooks. The Darnan Forest is home to a settlement known as Hearthfire who trades with Beacon but whose inhabitants pride themselves on their independence. The Grey Rise is a mountain range home to the Asha Trading Company, the setting’s characteristic Evil Megacorp which runs a company town of indentured miners. The Ivory Wilds are a jungle so named for omnipresent white choker vines which crush living prey in order to feed their soil. The Klachton Ocean and Everglint Bay sit adjacent to Beacon and connect the city to outlying islands (some of which have pirates!). The Mirrored Wetlands are a swamp whose water is clear as glass during the day but at night darker things stir deep beneath the surface. Finally, the Nul Wastes are a barren wasteland home to only a few scattered bands of barbarians and is ground zero of Nul’s defeat.

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Chapter 7: Organizations

This chapter details 17 organizations pertinent to the world of Ghaistala, some beneficial to superhero PCs and some which they’ll find to be at natural odds. Every entry has a small list of Notable Members and 3 adventure hooks.

Armorer’s Guild: These guys specialize in security-based equipment and defensive magic. They often hire adventurers to procure promising technology and magical items from ruins and have an interest in arming the outposts beyond the Protectorate Peaks to expand civilization.

Artisan Affairs Bureau: City bureaucrats who regulate the city’s artistic and literary businesses. They are particularly insistent in the enforcement of permits, and most people view their existence as a perfect example of bureaucracy where there needs to be none. They come across as more comedic than anything, and their adventure hooks center around strange happenings from weird artwork and exhibit heists.

Asha Trading Company: If Lex Luthor was an 1800s mine owner, he’d be running the Asha Trading Company. Although most people know this corporation is full of wicked assholes who keep employees in virtual slavery, they make so much money that Beacon and other settlements rely upon their exploitative labor. They seek to grow beyond their meager outposts outside the city. Adventure hooks naturally involve thwarting them, from aiding an anticapitalist miner’s strike* or preventing the megacorp from collapsing the city of Beacon into the earth via a massive diamond drill machine that is mining paragite beneath the surface.

*I’m not exaggerating, the book actually titles the adventure hook “Anti-capitalist.” Which I’m totally down with, by the way.

Collegium Beacuarus: This pseudo-religious movement believes that the act of knowledge and inquiry is a holy expression, but not all people are worthy of such knowledge. They hope to achieve a kind of spiritual transcendence, and have a deep interest in the legacy of Paragon and the Titans. Adventure hooks involve unearthed secrets of the past, from stolen books to two time-travelers at cross-purposes claiming to have knowledge of Ghaistala’s pre-Maddening civilizations.

Court of Empty Night: Vampires who want to return to a prehistoric ‘golden age’ when sapient beings were easily-hunted primitive tribes helpless at the hands of monsters. They include vampires, werewolves, and other monsters who derive sustenance from mortal life forces. Their NPCs and adventure hooks are straightforward horror movie monster stuff.

Gardeners’ Union: This organization is more of a social club of people with a love of gardening and beautifying the city via floral designs. Their leader is a treant, and they like to collect exotic seeds from worlds beyond the portals. Their adventure hooks involving various plant monsters run amok.

Guild of Exploration and Reconnaissance (GEAR): Adventuring scientists who seek to learn as much as possible about the worlds of the Ring of Virtue and beyond.Their adventure hooks involve Fantastic Four-style trips to strange and exotic lands.

Heroes Guild: An organization that officially signs up and provides support for Beacon’s superhero community. In exchange members must respond to the call for the city’s defense as part of a super-militia at the government’s request. You don’t have to sign up with them to be a superhero, although they help give a sense of legitimacy to those who do.

Lamplighters: Cops and trouble-shooters assorted into teams of five with distinct roles (loremaster, chaplain, interpreter, medic, and ‘buster’). They’re basically the people who solve petty crimes and clean up the small fry once the superheroes are done fixing things in the big leagues.

Lenskeepers: A guild of glassblowers and cleaners who evolved into a covert intelligence network as their various janitors and window-washers are often paid no mind by the average citizen. Fortunately they are mostly good-aligned, and use the secrets they learn to tip off superheroes and do-gooders in order to avert disasters and tragedies.

Lookouts: A Lowcity-based organization of regular citizens and superheroes who investigate missing people society has neither the time nor inclination to find. They are the enemies of the Court of Empty Night, who make a habit of preying upon such people to minimize risk.

Scroungers: Salvagers and machinists whose headquarters is underground beneath the Crater. They scrounge a surprising amount of valuable material from the various superpowered fights above, and can fashion such scraps into surprisingly-powerful technological and magical items. They even managed to revive someone known only as “the Retired Hero,” whose powers are so dangerous to the city above he lives with the Scroungers who he treats as his new family.

Shattered Sons: Superheroes who view the government of Beacon as a corrupting tool which only attends to the needs of the few at the expense of the many. Some even extend this enmity to the very concept of government itself. They specialize in going after corrupt politicians and business leaders who manage to avoid prosecution due to their power and influence. The book takes a rather positive view on them, and their adventure hooks involve the PCs helping them uncover government conspiracies and injustices.

Society for the Preservation of Normalcy and Decency: Un-powered and non-magical people who feel that the superpowered community is more of a curse than a blessing. They come from people who suffered losses during collateral damage from fights, and advocate for alternative means of keeping Beacon safe. A rare few at the top levels of SPND have more nefarious motives. They believe that the Maddening was actually a time of liberation, and Nul a failed hero who was on the verge of freeing mortalkind from the tyrannical Titans. They view arkwave-empowered supers as the primary prevention from Nul returning, and secretly set out to bring death and misfortune in order to hasten his arrival.

Stiltguards: Lowcity laborers who use clockwork and steam-powered stilt-suits to do maintenance work on the level’s various machinery. They help out the community in more subtle ways, such as clearing out debris and minimizing damage from factory hazards. They find themselves at cross-purposes with the Lamplighters due to differing priorities on how to “clean up” the neighborhoods.

Tenebrignis:A highly secretive organization rumored to be a “shadow government” of Beacon. They...don’t really have anything substantial detailed besides the fact that they know of secrets so terrible they must safeguard them from the public.

Treestriders: Inhabitants of the Darnan Forest who seek to protect the ecosystem of their home from unchecked industrialization and toxic magic.

Thoughts So Far: The chapters are short, but there’s just the right amount of content and adventure hooks in each of them to give workable material to the GM. While I understand that Beacon is the central point of the setting, the Regional Gazetteer has hardly any material for adventure creation. The Organizations are an interesting array of groups who for the most part have built-in reasons for getting involved in PC affairs. Some of them are more of an attachment or incidental to such events, such as the Artisan Affairs Bureau and the Gardeners’ Union. I’m quite fond of the Scroungers, who definitely feel like a concept that would organically arise from the tropes of a comic book universe.

Join us next time as we get a look at Beacon’s finest and foulest in Chapter 8: Notable People!
 

Libertad

Adventurer
I suspect this supplement is more enjoyable if one doesn't look at it as primarily a superhero game. That may sound confusing, so let me explain: It seems like its goal is less "the superhero genre recreated using D&D rules" and more "D&D with superhero-type flavor infused." If you stop judging it by how well it recreates the superhero genre, it will look a lot better.

Even so, I must still review it as a D&D sourcebook. There's still a lot of less than ideal and imbalanced choices which bring things down even in a non-superhero game. And also, things like inconsistent editing.

I said several times in the past the WotC's dream after D&D is the ultimate d20 system for superheroes. A lot of fandom would buy those books to create their homebred world as fanfic. My suggestion about a D&D/superhero crossover or mash-up is a nerfed reboot of the famous characters, something like in the comic RWBY league Justice.

The heroes from the games, RPGs and videogames, are different from the comics because those are designed for a balance between power and weakeness, and these may become boring Mary-Sue too easily. The power balance is even harder when the game has got levels as D&D and practically all the no-shooter MMOs. My advice for the comics publishers is a reboot/mash-up designed to be adapted into a game, even when lots of characters to be nerfed.

Mutants & Masterminds has already claimed the "d20 superheroes" niche, and given their focus on 5e for the unforeseeable future I haven't seen any inclination of devoting time to other tabletop RPG projects. Nonetheless I'd still be interested in hearing your theories as to why you feel WotC is interested in such a project.
 
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The system by M&M is not compatible with the rest of d20, and Hasbro has got deals with Disney/Marvel and Warner/DC They know they would make a lot of money with a d20 Marvel Superheroes, but when they tried to publish d20 Spectaculars for d20 Moderns they notices something.
 

Libertad

Adventurer
Chapter 8: Notable People

One may think that this section includes all the notable figures of the setting, but oddly enough the “NPC sections” of Supers & Sorcery are split into two. This chapter provides antagonists whose stat blocks are derived from existing monsters/NPCs but with new and/or altered abilities here and there. Appendix A: Villains & Monsters is further back in the book and provides entirely new stat blocks for even more characters, some of who are oddly enough good-aligned and be on the PCs’ side. I’m going to break with convention and detail both of these sections in the same post if only because together they give a good and consistent flavor for the setting. There’s nearly 40 characters combined between the two, so I won’t detail them all; just the ones I find most interesting.

The villains of Chapter 8 all have adventure hooks sorted by Tier; in some cases this isn’t ideal, as there are no proposed changes to their power level by default meaning that the PCs will easily outclass them at higher levels. There’s also sample lairs (complete with lair actions) and minions, along with Legendary Villainy detailing legendary actions added to specific characters’ stat blocks. A few NPCs also have proper Lairs acting as mini-dungeons, although those are detailed in Appendix B which I’ll cover as part of the final entry of the book.

Beefcake is a flesh golem made out of animated steaks. A failed experiment of XX the Sciencelich, it gained sapience from ambient magical energies in a museum. The creature is more misunderstood than malicious, often reacting with great strength to frightening situations it doesn’t understand. Unlike other flesh golems it is weak to and fearful of cold, and regenerates from fire.

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Count Abramovich is the leader of the Court of Empty Night. He is very much an undead crime lord and uses the vampire stat block, save that his spells are different (more blasty and energy stuff) and wields the Scorched Sun, a shortsword that can deal radiant damage and negates his vulnerability to sunlight. His minions include the Slayer, a vampire hunter who is now a broken thrall, whose Blade of Unmatched Sorrow is a finessable greatsword that grants him a 1/day “powered up” form when he drops to 0 hit points. Isn’t it odd that I find the henchman cooler than the supervillain?

Doors came like so many others to Ghaistala through a portal, but ended up stranded in another plane of existence when the arkwaves hit. Coming back nearly 3 centuries to a radically-different world, the person who would come to be known as Doors raged against the “lost lifetime” and set about finding ways to return Ghaistala to a simpler time...by cutting off contact with all other worlds and becoming the sole arbiter of extraplanar travel to and from the plane. Statwise he’s an Assassin with a host of teleportation themed spells and an attack that can forcefully plane shift targets.

The Edgecutioner is a solar angel who sees fit to be Ghaistala’s ultimate arbiter of the Law. His gynosphinx sidekick, the Prosecutor of the Law, spends all day in her floating citadel scrying hundreds of locations across the world. When the solar witnesses a crime, no matter how minor, he teleports to the area, informs the wrongdoer of their sins, and asks how they plead. The punishment depends on their pleading: guilty causes him to draw a fusillade of floating weapons to kill them, and if they plead innocent he subjects them to trial by combat. The scale of the crime does not matter, and the Edgecutioner never acts to stop a crime in planning or in progress; he only acts after the deed is done.

”Ed” Jorino is a kobold crime lord in charge of the Green Dragons gang and is pretty much your stereotypical comic book mob boss. He uses a modified bandit captain stat block but with more skills, scores a critical on an 18-20, and has a kobold’s pack tactics. His second-in-command Fax Jorino is an animated suit of armor.

Idyllia is a good-aligned aboleth who came from an oceanic utopia bereft of strife. Although said society is long gone now, she still prizes it as an ideal and thus seeks to build a similar society in Ghaistala. She uses her innate psychic powers to instill sensations of serene confidence in others, making them believe that they can achieve their greatest dreams. She has additional powers reflecting this, such as granting temporary hit points to those influenced by her powers, can cast Guidance at will, and can project an illusory humanoid version of herself which also as a double-purpose scrying sensor. Idyllia has already set up the Trieye Co-Op in Lowcity, which has encouraged people there to improve their own lives and find productive means of resolution. The only major drawback is that they can no longer drink water sources not produced, unable to gain sustenance from sources not treated with Idyllia’s magic (they’ll vomit up any other nourishment).

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Sideswipe is a mimic enamored with superhero culture. As such it sought to imitate its role models by polymorphing into rather comical facsimiles. Although well-intentioned, the creature lacks the proper training and tends to get in the way as an unwanted sidekick. Statwise Sideswipe’s a mimic save that its bite attack can deal any form of energy damage provided it witnesses an attack of that damage type being used, can mimic the forms and abilities of superpowered creatures, and can speak any language that it has heard.

The Sizzler is your stereotypical “didn’t get superpowers and was resentful” type of guy, and by the time he did get superpowers he was too far gone to bother with being a superhero. After many desperate attempts and ruining his own social ties he went on a rampage after the second arkwave emanation in his life gave him the ability to create and control fire. He uses the mage stat block save that he has a variety of fire-based spells, can use Metamagic like a Sorcerer, and radiates a burning aura that damages people in melee range.

Tomas Nailtanhe isn’t so much a supervillain as he is more of a bit character who can still cause trouble that the PCs have to clean up. Empowered by the arkwaves, this otherwise ordinary halfling can temporarily alter the appearance and composition of metal objects. He turned such powers to con artistry, using them to sell fake goods and jewelry at prices far beyond their actual worth, taking pains to make himself scarce before angry customers come back for refunds.

The major difference is that his get-rich-quick schemes have finally caught up to him; Tomas is already a wanted man in every major settlement of note, and at higher tiers he ends up conning someone he shouldn’t con and the PCs have to save him from a vindictive crime lord.

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XX, the Sciencelich is one of Beacon’s most dangerous threats. He was originally a famed arcanist who made breakthroughs in the study of portals along with other magitech inventions that are now omnipresent features of the city. XX’s true name is unknown, for he went to great pains in erasing all traces of his old life. Now he’s obsessed with uplifting society to an elevated state of being via fusing the best features of life and undeath. Many terrible monsters that have menaced Beacon have come from his labs, and he cares little for the misery he spreads as he insists on “looking at the big picture.”

Statwise XX is a lich, but he can turn his Paralyzing Touch into a ranged Freeze Ray and knows Chill Touch and Shocking Grasp. His Lair Actions involve various mad science lab effects, from various energy rays to needle-tipped tethers that transfer hit points from a target to XX.

Appendix A: Villains & Monsters

This Appendix has 18 named NPCs and 3 generic NPC types. There’s an inconsistent amount of fluff text in the entries. Some major characters have proper write-ups on their backstories, others are entirely stat blocks and nothing else. In some cases this is fine, as they’re NPCs in an adventure or mentioned elsewhere in the book, but other times this Appendix is the only time that they appear (like Circe).

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Amelia Kassram is an ordinary high school girl who wants to be an engineer and was empowered with telekinetic strength from the last arkwave emanation. She’s still learning to control her abilities, and the shockwaves from her attacks often cause collateral damage. Statwise she is a CR 7 human with Resistance against nonmagical bludgeoning/piercing/slashing damage, deals a bonus die of damage with weapon attacks, and when she scores a critical hit on an unarmed strike she deals 1d10 bonus force damage to everything surrounding her in a 5 foot radius. She’s actually a superhero, being of Chaotic Good alignment, which threw me off when I first read the appendix.

Circe, Master of Magi-Tech is a CR 16 supervillain who relies upon an array of gadgets rather than spells proper. Her tools have flavorful names, such as the Gorgeous Goggles of All-Seeing which grant her Truesight, or the Raygun of Amazing Transformations which can impart debilitating conditions from animal polymorphing to unwanted etherealness as part of its damaging effects.

Hagard Thornheart is an SPND member tasked with assassinating superheroes in order to bring about the return of Nul. He’s a CR 11 innate spellcaster, with magic specializing in illusion and misdirection along with Rogue-like abilities. He wields a Paragite Dagger which can ignore the Resistance of any creature it strikes.

Heroes Interfector is a demon and perhaps the most powerful member of the Court of Empty Night. As a CR 22 fiend it has a host of powerful abilities, ranging from multiattack natural weapons, a poisonous stinger, has a constantly active antimagic field, and has innate spellcasting of various ‘black magic’ spells from eldritch blast to blight and animate dead...wonder if it can voluntarily lower said antimagic field in order to cast such things, the text doesn’t say. Heroes Interfector also has legendary actions to make additional attacks, cast an additional spell, or summon up magical darkness.

The Marquis is the leader of the Shattered Sons who possesses a mysterious power known as the Retaliation which manifests as literal fires of wrath. He’s a CR 11 Chaotic Good human who casts spells like a warlock, specializing in heat-based magic (as well as a self-only fly spell). His signature ability is the Aura of Vengeance, which damages targets in melee range with magical flames, and said aura’s radius, damage, and the Marquis’ own AC increases the lower his hit points get.

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Poppet is an antihero who can take control of other people by establishing a magical link to them and one of her dolls. She was born on the Ethereal Plane to a mage who plane shifted there and couldn’t get back, which instilled in her the desire to interact with a world that was literally untouchable. She managed to return to the Material Plane, but her stereotypical Chaotic Neutralness means that she’s more concerned with self-fulfillment than more heroic ideals. She’s a CR 7 wizard with a diverse array of spells, can open a portal between the Ethereal and Material Planes once per day, can use Dominate Person at will provided she is holding a doll, and can force an attacker to waste an intended offensive action on a failed Wisdom save as a reaction.

Sinister Void is a sage who studied antimatter and a mysterious “dark universe.” An accident during one of his science experiments infused him with antimatter, turning him Chaotic Evil with a desire to further his research through destructive displays of entropy. He’s a CR 21 wizard with a healthy assortment of spells, and he wields an antimatter greataxe that does a lot of normal as well as necrotic damage. His legendary actions grant him bonus attacks and cantrip casting, as well as a gaze attack that imposes the frightened condition and an AoE antimatter blast that harms only living creatures.

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Spectacle is a superhero who derives his powers from self-confidence as well as positive emotions from others. He is a CR 4 warlock who also has innate spellcasting, and he gains bonuses to AC, attack rolls, and damage rolls based on how many friendly creatures he can see and hear. Furthermore, he grants friendly creatures within 30 feet the ability to spend a reaction to impart words of encouragement which can heal him. There’s no limit to the amount of people Spectacle can impact this on, but every individual creature can heal him in such a way only once every 24 hours.

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Zephon Othaenya is a half-aasimar, half-tiefling paladin whose dual heritage came from the unlikely marriage of a half-angel and a reformed procubus (nonbinary succubus/incubus). Their son Zephon inherited unique powers, where he shapechanges into a more angelic aspect during the day and a more demonic one at night. Innate magic prevents any onlookers from realizing that the two are the same person unless Zephon discloses such information to them. Zephon naturally used this to his advantage, taking on the identity of two different superheroes: during the day he is the frightening instrument of heavenly power, Darkday, and at night he is Nightlight, the surprisingly good-hearted demon who is a light of hope in darkest night.

Zephon is a CR 11 paladin who has a variety of melee and ranged weapons, and as Darkday he has a healing touch much like a paladin but as Nightlight he can effortlessly travel between the Ethereal and Material Planes.

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So we covered a bunch of interesting named characters, so how about the generic types? Well we have the rather underwhelming Ground and Flying Assistants, CR 0 constructs who I suppose represent background workers for magitech stuff and have no interesting traits to speak of. But the far more interesting entry is for Underlings! Representing mooks of all kinds, they are a base CR 1/8th stat block with 1 Hit Point, 11 AC, and 12 in every ability score save Constitution. They take no damage on a successful save vs a damaging effect, even if it would still do half damage.

But beyond this rather underwhelming stat block, there’s a list of suggestions and templates to make them more unique. For example, Magic Underlings get Darkvision, immunity to cold and fire damage, and can cast the Fire Bolt and Ray of Frost cantrips. Melee Underlings get 16 AC and a shortsword, while Undeadlings are immune to necrotic damage and can absorb all damage the first time they get hurt (effectively requiring 2 attacks to put down) unless they take radiant damage which can 1-shot them normally. There are even entries for Superpowered templates, such as gaining a 30 foot fly speed, super-speed which increases their speed by 30 feet, limited teleportation, and various Recharge-based attacks.

I have to say that I really like the Underlings. Albeit not as all-encompassing as 4th Edition’s Minion template, it provides a nice degree of variety for hordes of lesser foes for parties to mow down.

Thoughts So Far: Overall I like this chapter and appendix. The characters are quite flavorful and have quite a bit of support in using them in adventures. I’m rather fond of Sideswipe, Spectacle, and XX the Sciencelich from Chapter 8, and Spectacle from Appendix A.

There’s a larger than usual number of fellow superheroes with stats, which is a bit of an odd choice, but one that I can appreciate both for world-building and potential “team-up” scenarios. The 5th Edition system of Lair and Legendary Actions work very well with the concept of supervillains and masterminds, and the Underling stat block and templates help reinforce a comic book feel. Easily my favorite chapter in this book.

Join us next time as we dive into a host of superpowered plots in Part 3: Adventure Time!
 

Libertad

Adventurer
The system by M&M is not compatible with the rest of d20, and Hasbro has got deals with Disney/Marvel and Warner/DC They know they would make a lot of money with a d20 Marvel Superheroes, but when they tried to publish d20 Spectaculars for d20 Moderns they notices something.

Don't know enough about Hasbro's business deals to comment on that, but I don't think that complete combability nor nerfing iconic characters should be an ideal for D20 Superheroes given that endurance-based dungeon crawls which 5e is strongly based off of are completely different in both narration and gameplay. And barring extreme examples like Superman I'd prefer superhero RPGs to make you "feel like" the characters you're playing as rather than watered-down versions. Sure it'll sell well cuz it has the WotC brand, but it's not going to be a great marvel of game design. The whole "put D20 in everything" during the days of 3rd Edition got us a lot of products that haven't fit in well with their emulated genres, and while it's endemic to any popular OGL system I'd like to think that the better RPG writers can move past that.

Apologies if I'm coming off as critical, but given what I'm currently reviewing I hope it makes sense why I have this mindset.
 

Libertad

Adventurer
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Part 3: Adventure Time

The final non-appendix section of this book details advice on running superhero-flavored adventures in 5th Edition along with 3 sample adventures.

Chapter 9: Running Supers Adventures

This slightly brief section is all fluff, suggesting sample campaign styles. The first are Teen Heroes, which involves setting up common premises (are they part of a school? Do they have mentors?) along with a suggested campaign arc that focuses on personal development as they come to terms with their place in society. How they measure up against or differentiate themselves from the older generation of superheroes is another important aspect.

The second suggestion is the typical Superteam a la Avengers or Justice League. Beyond asking whether the PCs are part of, allied with, or replacing the Portaleers, it also asks questions like who is a PC’s archenemy, a time they saved the city, and the life they have beyond superheroing.

The final suggestion is Grimdark Heroes, which beyond the typical scene-setting advice suggests that players have “more freedom to lean into blatant parody or satire.”

Having the heroes of this campaign be exaggerated versions of an already established hero can help add humor to what has the potential to be a darker campaign, and skilled roleplayers may be able to explore archetypes from new perspectives to add thematic depth to their heroes.

I dunno about this one chief. Rob Liefeld can be pretty amusing and cringy, but if your gaming group wants to do a serious Watchmen-style game it may not be very fun having a PC named Bloodpouch spoiling the mood.

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Chapter 10: Secret Origin!

Moving on to adventures proper, we have a 1st level adventure dedicated to introducing our players to Beacon! Equal parts investigation and action, the backstory is that a pair of scientists researching the effects of mind control on brain chemistry had a falling out when they both had different ends for their means. Professor Faulkner wanted to use it for psychological aid to help alleviate the guilt of mind control victims by proving objective evidence that it wasn’t their fault, while Professor Alder wanted to pursue this research to gain power over others.

The research project ends up scuttled of funds once Faulkner shared his worries with an ethics board, propelling Alder to take ever more drastic means of completing his work by turning himself into a ghost and discovering means of possessing multiple bodies at once. He plans on submitting his findings to Beacon’s various criminal masterminds to gain the power, money, and recognition he so craves.

The adventure has three major Issues, or sections of plot and the PCs level up after each one’s completion. The first issue opens up with an ancient red dragon mind-controlled by one of the Ghost’s devices attacking Argentum Square. The Portaleers are already on the case, fighting the wyrm while collateral damage threatens civilians below. The PCs (once they find a convenient excuse to slip out of their secret identities if they have any) face a variety of challenges, from falling glass shards to opportunistic looters to people trapped in a burning building. None of these challenges have any suggested damage/saves/skill DCs, unfortunately. The PCs do get to fight a dragon wyrmling who has a mind-controlling device on its neck that can be spotted by a passive Perception of 10 or more and can be targeted and damaged on its own (but have 4 rounds to do so before it flies away). PCs who fail to notice will have one of the Portaleers quickly call out the weak spot while passing by during their fight with the bigger dragon. After this encounter, the ancient red red dragon falls into a crater and the Portaleers call for the PCs to help take it down. The adventure mentions that the dragon may try to attack and even kill the Portaleers, but we don’t have stats for said heroes which is a rather big oversight. The PCs have 4 rounds to remove or destroy the mind-controlling before it takes to the skies and retreats. If the beast is freed, he’ll introduce himself as Carl (I love that name for a dragon) and be horrified at the damage he caused, offering to help with the rebuilding.

In the aftermath, Intellect of the Portaleers gives praise on the PCs’ quick and brave actions during the chaos and asks them to meet at the Atrium of Lights tomorrow. And then they level up.

I’m not a fan of this opening. 1st level is a terrible one to start at for a superhero-style campaign, and it feels rather anticlimactic to be fighting a baby dragon while the ‘real heroes’ are dealing with the greater danger above. Beyond the stats already provided in the Monster Manual this Issue has no useful mechanics for dealing with the collateral hazards or stats for the relevant Portaleers. Furthermore, the fight with the ancient red dragon will either be a non-issue (as the GM pulls their punches) or can end up killing one or more PCs as the creature is CR 24 and even a single attack with a minimum damage roll can cause Instant Death to the average 1st-level character.

Issue 2 has the PCs meet with the Portaleers at their headquarters. The level of Paragon’s Peak can provide worldbuilding infodumps on Ghaistala if the PCs need it via guided tours, and they can socially interact with Intellect. As the rest of the Portaleers are busy reinforcing city defenses for a future attack, Intellect asks the PCs if they can help follow leads as to whoever was controlling the dragons. There are 3 people and locations the PCs can check out: the Green Dragon Gang who recently stole items that can create such technology, Professor Kedrick Faulkner who was researching mind control, and Doctor Amano who is an ally of the Portaleers and can find out useful information about any technology the PCs find.

The Green Dragon Gang hangs out at a seedy jazz club in Lowcity, and the crime lord Ed Jorino can tell the party that they accepted a burglary job from a new supervillain known as the Ghost for a future terrorist attack on Beacon. The PCs can get this information either by beating up his goons, by offering to take out a rival up and coming mob boss (who has Gladiator stats and will be a big challenge for 2nd level PCs), or some other manner where they pull a fast one on Ed. Informing the Portaleers of this plan will help reinforce the city further, minimizing casualties in the climax.

The second lead is in Argentum Square where the party meets Faulkner, whether on campus or his home or somewhere else. He can tell the PCs about his history with Alder as well as his home address in Lowcity, asking for the PCs to retrieve any research notes they find as they can help stop whatever scheme he’s up to. The PCs can find more clues there, but will be attacked by Alder. He will exit his own body astrally as the Ghost if the PCs subdue him or find a special collar device which is keeping his body and soul attached. If the PCs lose the fight Alder will destroy his notes (but not the collar) and escape, but PCs who manage to secure the notes can get special protective devices from Doctor Amano that give them advantage on saving throws vs the Ghost’s powers. At this point the PCs advance to 3rd level.

Doctor Amano can reverse-engineer the collar found in the lab to act as a tracking beacon to find the Ghost’s hidden lair deep in the Ivory Wilds forest. Arriving there, the PCs will have to fight possessed animals (ranging from apes to black bears) along with a giant guardian plant monster known as That Which Lurks at the entrance to the base. Mind-controlled civilians are building collars, and PCs must take care to subdue them with minimal injury; those who are careless can cause them to end up heavily injured, and they may lead a campaign to turn public opinion against the heroes in the future. There’s also a giant scrying projector being watched by three mastermind-style characters (CEO of Asha Trading Company, Count Abramovich, and the Marquis of the Shattered Sons), viewing a scene of mind-controlled dragons attacking Beacon. The Ghost is showcasing his work to them in another room, and the trio won’t interfere with the PCs; the Ghost is a newcomer to the world of supervillainy, and is still in the process of being judged.

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I have a few minor complaints about this. First off, it is totally within the PCs’ rights to go “you’re all under arrest” and try to take down the three masterminds. But the Count and the Marquis are quite high CR; even if they prioritize escape, a few of their attacks can put a dent on PCs when the party’s at a level where resources and spells are more precious than ever. Additionally, the Marquis is Chaotic Good; it seems quite out of character for him to be okay with widespread civilian casualties. I can get the idea of “break a few eggs to make an omelet” mentality, but in such a case he wouldn’t be well...good-aligned in a typical comic book morality, or at the very least be persuaded to take down the Ghost.

The PCs can fight the Ghost in a final battle. Such a clash is timed, for the longer the party takes to dispatch him the greater the casualties mounted on Beacon. PCs have various means of resolving this. If Professor Faulkner and Doctor Amano are present they can help the PCs appeal to the Ghost’s better nature and call off the attack, instill doubt in him during the fight (manifesting as disadvantage on his next attack or saving throw), or help free one character from the Ghost’s control or outright damage the Ghost by operating the lab’s machinery to shock him with lightning.

Statwise the Ghost is a CR 6 humanoid who can move in an incorporal manner, as well as take over people as thralls and fire Ecto Blasts from their line of sight.

PCs who manage to stop the Ghost’s plans win the gratitude and sponsorship of the Portaleers, earning one of their number as a patron.

So my thoughts about this adventure are mixed. It has the good set-up of a typical superhero plot, with the right mixture of action and investigation. I like the concept of the Ghost, and how the adventure’s nonlinear style provides additional boons for successful investigations (fewer casualties, protective devices, etc) rather than stopping the party in their tracks if they fail to find some clue.

That being said, the low-level nature hurts things more than it helps, even if the party is gaining levels at a rapid rate. I wonder why the adventure didn’t just start at 3rd level, at a time when classes earn their archetypes. The business of the Portaleers is answered regarding the dragon attacks as to why they’re not doing the adventure themselves, but even so it stretches credibility when the PCs are so...well, hapless against some of the threats. There’s even an optional encounter of the party having to hide from a purple worm in the Ivory Forest, which doesn’t feel very superheroic.

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Chapter 11: A Study in Life

The next adventure is a significant bump from the last one, starting at 10th level and advancing to 13th over the course of 3 Issues. Presumed to take place at a time when the party are now respected and established superheroes, the party is attending the funeral of the superhero Lifewake. But she is brought to undeath by unknown means and starts attacking everyone present! It’s clear that there’s internal conflict going on, as during the battle a confusion-style d8 random effect table causes her to struggle against herself, manifesting uncontrolled necromantic attacks, or doubling over in pain while screaming for help among other regrettable results. During the fight, a successful Insight check detects that she looks over to Heart frequently, and if the PCs point this out then said Portaleer can lead her away into a more desolate battleground to minimize civilian casualties. PCs can also insta-KO her by ridding her of her pained emotions with the appropriate ability or spell.

Once Lifewake collapses, Intellect and Heart asks the PCs to investigate why this happened, including a list of her known associates. During their investigation they learn that a craftsperson known as Jon was stalking Lifewake a week before her death. They also learn that she was last seen near the docks upon suspicion that three of her friends were press-ganged into service at sea.

Jon is in fact Lifewake’s father, and is resentful of the Portaleers encouraging her into the dangerous lifestyle of a superhero. He does mention that he spied her meeting with what appeared to be Docent, the Portaleers’ golem assistant, somewhere down at the docks.

All the while, the PCs are being spied on as they investigate. An airborne scrying sensor shadowed by a robe gives the appearance of a ghost-like cloaked figure which the PCs will see in the street outside. Following it causes the scrying spell to abruptly disconnect, the cloak falling to the ground.

As all leads point to the docks, the PCs will find a warehouse that is actually one of XX’s safehouses. One of his creations, Docent 2.0, is a near-perfect facsimile of the Portaleers’ construct, only evil and now in an upgraded stone golem body. Inert bodies hooked up to equipment will transform into ghasts during the fight.

The final Issue puts the PCs on the trail of XX the Sciencelich, and is open-ended in how they confront him. The adventure suggests placing NPCs who mysteriously disappeared over the course of the campaign as undead thralls, and if the PCs are in danger of a TPK then Intellect will swoop in to fight alongside them. This time we have stats for the one of the Portaleers: Intellect’s an Assassin but with 20s in various ability scores and 3 more special abilities: he can Disengage/Hide/Dash as Legendary Actions, can Slow Fall as a Monk, and can Stun creatures if they fail a Con save whenever he sneak attacks them.

PCs victorious over XX can discover through his research notes that he was trying to find ways to create arkwave-empowered individuals at will rather than waiting every 20 years, and Lifewake was the greatest key to his experiment.

PCs will be rewarded with guild coins that can be redeemed for magic items and/or services up to 10,000 gp, 10,000 gp in actual money, and membership as honorary Portaleers if they aren’t already.

I like this adventure better than the first, even if it is a bit shorter and more straightforward. I like that Lifewake’s battle had alternative means of winning, and making use of one of the cooler supervillains in Supers & Sorcery is another plus.

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Chapter 12: Hatred of the Hyper-Demon

The final adventure is a 20th-level one where the PCs have to save not just Beacon, but reality itself, from a demon lord who seeks to reawaken Nul! After the Portaleers mysteriously disappear, the Hyper-Demon’s giant spherical orb-fortress floats above the bay, accompanied by a kaiju known as Cavsoi* the Wavemaker who is being controlled by the Hyper-Demon. The first Issue involves shepherding civilians from the quickly-flooding Lowcity docks, while the second Issue involves breaking through the orb’s outer layer into the Hyper-Demon’s lair. These tasks are rather open-ended given the powers and abilities possessed by high-level PCs, but the orb’s defenses (both inside and out) are well-detailed with contingent traps.

*the text also calls him Cavois, don’t know which one’s correct.

Throughout the lair the Hyper-Demon will taunt the PCs, indirectly informing them of his evil plan with sample lines. In a processing room filled with paragite-infused water the PCs can find the fate of the Portaleers: trapped and unconscious within Wall of Force-sustained glass pods. The Hyper-Demon will pretend to be angry and fearful as the PCs enter, trying to trick them into thinking that interacting with glowing panels will help free them but in reality is intended to make them waste their time, magic, and resources. The Hyper-Demon may even cause a single pod to open up to further reinforce the ruse. During this time hordes of demons will pour into the rooms to fight the heroes in waves, starting with a lot of weak demons at first but then smaller numbers of stronger ones. There’s also an illusion-guarded secret control room the PCs can find, which contains machinery the PCs can use or sabotage to rescue the Portaleers and set the kaiju free of the Hyper-Demon’s control.

Issue 3 begins when the PCs manage to rescue the Portaleers, shut down the lair’s defenses, or otherwise happens at a dramatically appropriate time. The entire fortress starts tearing apart and falling through the sky in irregular-sized and shaped chunks. The tears in reality and their counter effects cause much of the debris to fall far slower and/or be pushed back up in a loop, and the PCs come face to face with the Hyper-Demon. The PCs have 12 rounds to stop the supervillain before he summons Nul to the world, resulting in an Instant Game Over. Every time the Hyper-Demon uses Energy Drain an additional round is lost, and he’ll use this whenever he can. It’s a rechargeable move on a 5-6 on a d6, so it’s entirely possible that PCs will have much less time to defeat him due to factors out of their control.

But beyond this, the Hyper-Demon also bears a Control Rod which he can use to make Cavsoi attack the PCs. PCs can disarm or destroy it, causing the kaiju to turn his wrath on the Hyper-Demon or retreat back into the oceanic depths respectively. Cavsoi has no stats but he’s given a list of damaging attacks performed on initiative count 20 on every round. The Hyper-Demon also positions himself under paragite-infused water that heals him every round but nobody else (and the waterfall comes from an extraplanar portal that can be dispelled).

Stat-wise the Hyper-Demon is a CR 23 humanoid (not fiend strangely) who has two forms. His first regular form has a variety of radiation-themed attacks, from a Plasma Blast to an Atomic Fist and an exhaustion-inducing Energy Drain attack. He also has Legendary Actions including an AoE pulse of Nul energy dealing necrotic damage. Once he’s reduced to 0 HP he willingly lets a piece of Nul into his soul, gaining 300 hit points* along with new Legendary Actions that can reduce a target’s maximum HP, blind multiple targets for one turn, and an AoE glimpse of a damage-dealing nightmarish hellscape.

*he had 241 in his first form, so 541 total.

Hatred of the Hyper-Demon has a very cool set-up, although I don’t like the swingy nature of the “countdown combat” where rolls of a d6 may very well make it impossible for PCs to win. Besides the final fight the only other bit of combat are the waves of demon hordes which may be tedious, and the gauntlet of traps may also be equally tiresome as they’re very clearly meant to whittle down the party’s resources. I get the fact that it’s a climactic adventure where time is of the essence, but it could have benefitted from more variety in enemy types. It also doesn’t take into consideration the possibility of dealing with the kaiju first independently, making the lack of appropriate stats even more of a glaring omission.

Thoughts So Far: The adventures are a mixed bag for me. A Study in Life is one that I like overall, although Secret Origin left a cold taste in my mouth and Hatred of the Hyper-Demon could use more variety. Secret Origin has a good plot and adventure structure set up, which on its own is perfectly fine. But within the confines of low-level 5th Edition it is a very poor fit for the superhero genre.

Join us next time as we wrap up this book’s final chapter and appendices, covering magic items, lairs, and kaiju!
 

Libertad

Adventurer
Chapter 13: Magic Items

This short 4-page chapter is far from sparse, with 23 new magic items. Quite a few are obvious shout-outs to superhero characters and tropes, such as a self-replenishing 3-use Creature Repellent that wards off a single creature if it fails a Wisdom Save, a Grappling Hook which can pull the character 20 feet to another location or pull an unattended item to the user, a Jump Jet which grants a 30 foot fly speed,* a Powered Gauntlet and Knuckleduster of Demonic Strength which boosts a user’s unarmed strike damage to 1d6 or 3d10 respectively, a Utility Belt with 6 extra-dimensional pouches that can hold up to 25 pounds/16 cubic feet each, and a returnable Throwing Shield which can act as a 1d6 thrown weapon that deals an additional 1d6 damage at 5th, 11th, and 17th level. There’s even a Lesser and normal Cape of Flying: both can take the form of any typical type of clothing and don’t need to be attuned to the wearer. The former grants a flight speed equal to the wearer’s walking speed but makes them fall like a Jump Jet, while the regular Cape of Flying grants a true flight of 50 feet.

*but the user starts to fall if they end their turn in midair.

Quite a few of these magic items have the Common level of rarity, and only the rarer ones require attunement. Even the ones granting vertical mobility such as the Grappling Hook and Jump Jets are Common, with the Lesser Cape of Flying Uncommon and the regular Cape being Rare. This means that it’s not so hard for a gadgeteer-type PC to stock up on these magic items or for low-level characters to not be limited by spellcasting and flying mounts in order to take to the air.

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Appendix B: Lairs & Strongholds

The following are eight sample lairs which serve as mini-dungeon adventure locations. Most are tied to an existing supervillain, although a few are not. Each one has a suggested party level along with maps and listed rooms, and a few have suggested adventure hooks.

Cloud Castle is a floating fortress hanging from the underside of a mobile stormcloud. Owned by an elderly cloud giant, he devotes a fair portion of his domicile to obstacle course purposes for the training of superheroes. Beyond such accommodations there are a set of eight portals linked across various locations in Ghaistala.

Clouded Eye Courthouse is the Edgecutioner’s headquarters. It hovers high over Beacon, magically invisible to outside viewers. The solar sometimes teleports people into the area, where the wronged party and a set of randomly-chosen “jurors” are subject to a trial by combat to the death. Beyond the Edgecutioner and his gynosphinx sidekick there are deva guards and an armory of angelic weapons which deal 6d8 bonus radiant damage to the target if they hit (or the same damage to the wielder on a miss).

The Hall of the Forgotten Sun is one of Count Abramovich’s safehouses, containing various magical items he’s procured over the years. It is occupied by dozens of vampire Underlings, a gelatinous cube, and the Count himself and his Slayer lieutenant.

The Scriptorium is a fabled demiplane library outside the normal confines of time and space. Any tome, scroll, book, tablet, or any object with written words taken in spawns a copy within the seemingly infinite archives, making it a valued place for forgotten knowledge. The ruler of the Scriptorium is a sphinx known only as the Librarian, and is also home to a would-be conqueror warmage of a long-dead civilization searching for knowledge to take over his homeworld...which is deliciously ironic given that the text states how people can end up “lost in time” for spending too long in the Scriptorium’s deepest archives.

Scroungers’ Crater is a write-up of the Crater, and can house all kinds of opposition depending on the Villain of the Week. The Scroungers have various retractable buildings and tunnels they can use for safe cover, and there’s even a set of bleachers where they can watch battles and place bets on who wins. PCs who manage to help out the Scroungers in some way can gain one of their number as a sidekick in addition to typical material rewards.

The Silence Dread is the personal ship of the Pirate King. It is the odd man out as the only Lair without a map, and its location descriptions are rather hum-drum typical ship stuff.

Trieye Co-Op is the beginning of Idyllia’s planned utopian society. Currently a small neighborhood in Lowcity, it is oddly clean and quiet, and newcomers are encouraged to drink from the central fountain’s magical water in an attempt to bind them to the community. Their current major building project is a large waterpark, and Idyllia’s lair resides at the bottom of an underwater sinkhole that the rest of the Co-Op is discouraged from inspecting due to safety concerns. It is a sinkhole, after all.

XX’s Abstrusatorium is one of the Sciencelich’s primary research labs. The complex is guarded by an array of AI defenses in addition to mechanical and magical traps. The sample adventure hook has the PCs face off against the Dead Ringers, evil cloned versions of themselves via the Simulacrum spell. The complex has various traps as well as a Hyper Beam cannon that can be shot as a Lair Action by XX. Fortunately several areas marked on the map are “blind spots” in which the PCs can use to take cover.

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Appendix C: Kaiju

The two primary sources of giant monster attacks in Beacon are XX’s failed experiments and Kaiju that managed to breach the natural defenses of the Protectorate Peaks. In the latter case, we have four sample creatures in this appendix. Without exception each of them is an Epic Tier foe, with all but one having a Challenge Rating of 30 (the odd one out is 27). They all generate Regional Effects which alter nearby terrain and life forms as an ominous foreshadowing of their approach.

Blodynbren, the Lotus Mother is a rather pacifistic entity of nature, only aggressive when her groves are endangered. She’s a gargantuan fey that takes the form of a fox-plant hybrid, and can generate radiant solar rays, gusts of wind, and giant petals that can deflect ranged attacks.

Golgomarauth, the Dread Hand of Death is a sea serpent capable of limited flight. It has a powerful Megaton Punch attack which can hit multiple creatures at once as well as a line of pressurized steam as a ranged attack. It can also absorb spells and cast them if it bites a spellcasting creature, and can fire a Paragite beam that can make a creature lose the ability to cast spells. Which is rather odd on account that Paragite’s initial entry mentions it only affects those whose abilities come from arkwaves.

Karyu, the Terror from Beyond the Stars crash-landed in the Grey Wastes* on a comet, residing at the bottom of a sinkhole before being awakened by the ambient energies of Beacon’s portals. Drawn by interdimensional energies for sustenance, Karyu is aggressive in feeding off of such things and has managed to gather a group of fringe cultists who become empowered with air elemental essence for their devotion. Karyu has no real physical description beyond having claws and pedipalps along with a stinger tail, indicating a bug-like form. It can fly at a rapid 220 feet per round and is fond of hit and run tactics. It has innate spellcasting of lightning and thunder-based magic, and lightning damage “overloads” it in the form of granting temporary hit points as well as new attacks. It can also change radiant, thunder, cold, or fire damage to lightning damage as a reaction.

*I don’t know if they actually meant the Nul Wastes, as a CTRL + F search for “Grey Wastes” reveals this entry as the only mention in the entire book.

Xort, the Warm Embrace is actually two organisms: a gigantic earth elemental known as Xai and a slime mold known as Orthax. The slime discovered that it was incapable of eating the elemental, so the two of them settled in a truce and combined their powers. Like Karyu, this kaiju also attracted a cult who can polymorph into oozes as their granted power. Xort appears as a rather straightforward combatant, wading into the thick of things and making multiattack slams. Once it takes enough damage, Orthax is vomited out and covers up the carapace’s cracks, regenerating hit points in a ‘second form’ with new attacks and abilities. Xort can also subsume creatures it grapples and kills, spitting out cloned thralls of such slain beings.

Unlike the other kaiju, Xort has no ranged attacks or alternate movement speeds, which like the Tarrasque makes it vulnerable to enemies that can keep out of its range by flight.

Thoughts So Far: I like the new magic items, and the kaiju have cool abilities. The use of a “second form” for half of them is a pretty nifty idea, and is something I’ve seen repeated throughout this book (the Resolute feat, Count Abramovich’s vampire hunter sidekick, Harlan/the Ghost, and the Hyper-Demon). I like this as a game mechanic in the “you haven’t even seen my final form” way, which also does a good job of emulating some superhero stories.

The Lairs I don’t have any strong feelings for one way or another. They’re mostly meant to be battle scenes for the book’s super-villains, while a few felt rather uninspired.

Final Thoughts: Supers & Sorcery is a great book, but mostly in terms of setting. It doesn’t shy away from said RPG’s more fantastic and high fantasy aspects in achieving a more “superheroic” feel, and there’s plenty of grist for the mill in coming up with conflict and adventures. The various characters in the book make for interesting foes for a party’s rogues’ gallery, and I can see myself using the material therein for an unconventional campaign.

That all being said, and I hate to say it, but the system it’s using is just not ideal for superheroes in the broadest sense of the term. 5th Edition just doesn’t hit that higher tier of power level you see in works such as Justice League or Superman, and the emphasis on resource based dungeon crawls doesn’t line up with the typical structure of a comic book adventure. Even house rules designed to push past bounded accuracy are a halfway measure, for the emphasis on weight tracking, the foot by foot dimensions of abilities and movement, and other such specifics cannot bring the system up to the lofty heights of superheroes who can fly between cities in seconds and punch meteors out of the sky barring very generous GM Fiat. Supers & Sorcery can emulate fantasy superheroes on the lower end of the power spectrum, but that isn’t the intended feel I get from this book.

New material for players feels similarly incomplete. Instead of discussing ways of how characters can keep their identities safe from diviners and other such measures, we merely have new Backgrounds for their ‘normal’ lives. We don’t get a “build your own powers” approach that so many other superhero RPGs do, instead given a few new archetypes, spells, and equipment which can mimic a few known Marvel/DC characters but falls short of a more holistic system. When I read such material it feels more like “spot the reference” rather than a means of making one’s own heroes in a four-colored D&D world.

Furthermore, there are aspects of the book that indicate the need for a second editing pass, which I touched on in the prior chapters. As such the book feels like it’s missing material even though it is for all intents and purposes a “complete” setting.

On the one hand, I understand that many self-publishers need to publish 5e material in order to get noticed, so I cannot begrudge the writers for going this way. But on the other hand I cannot help but notice the poor fit system-wise, and have to be honest in my judgement of the product.

I would love Supers & Sorcery more if it was published for another system better suited to superheroes, or made more radical changes for character creation a la the new 5e Spheres of Power or Beowulf: Age of Heroes. But as it stands, it’s a book full of cool ideas that I wouldn’t run as is at the gaming table, and the time and effort spent converting the material to my system of choice would be better spent making my own material instead.

Thank you to all those who read this far. I’m currently in the works of writing up another Let’s Read, but as I’m unsure when/if I’ll be done with enough drafts I don’t want to make any promises yet.
 

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