log in or register to remove this ad

 

Save The Day With The Sentinel Comics RPG

Core Rulebook Cover.png

Sentinels of the Multiverse spent the last decade building one of the best comic book universes out there without using comic books. Instead, they built it through a strong cooperative card game, great thematic expansions and even a podcast detailing the fictional comic company behind the setting. This month marks the release of the full Sentinel Comics RPG which puts the future of the setting in the hands of its quietly massive fanbase. Greater Than Games rocketed a copy to us from a dying planet to check it out.

When Greater than Games put the Sentinel Comics RPG on Kickstarter, they recruited Cam Banks, Dave Chalker and Phil Menard, who put out the late, lamented Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game for Cortex Plus. Sentinel Comics shares a lot with their earlier work, but it also draws inspiration from other modern systems like Fate Core, Blades in the Dark and Powered By The Apocalypse. Players take action by assembling a die pool of three dice various traits on their character sheet and roll. Usually, the middle number of the three dice is taken, but characters often have special traits that have use for the other dice. A fire-breathing character, for example, might also inflict a penalty on any target based on the lowest rolling die. Even if a character doesn’t have an ability like this, they can always take a risky action to do it in exchange for a twist.

Twists reflect the complications that happen in superhero stories. They exist at the heart of Sentinel Comics RPG and put forward an intriguing idea; failure is hard in superhero stories, but complication is easy. Superman rarely misses a punch. But knocking a Lexcorp bot into a lamp post that might fall on Lois Lane? That happens all the time. Characters can choose to add a twist to succeed even if a roll fails them. Minor twists are something that affect the current scene, like an unexpected fire or a fresh batch of goons coming to reinforce the bad guy. Major twists have longer lasting implications in the campaign. Maybe that car you threw at the bad guy was owned by the police commissioner who will now have a sour opinion of your team because of it.

What makes the twist mechanic work is that they are seeded all over the place. Player characters have two principles that offer open-ended questions that can inspire. A Batman style loner might have the Principle of Stealth, which asks “what trace did you leave behind?” to provide future badness when the bad guys know someone’s seen their plans. Players can choose to fail if they don’t want to accept a twist, but the examples in the book show good examples of negotiation at the table.

Environments offer twists as well. Environments are an important part of the card game and their design here offers some great ideas. Superhero fights are rarely slugfests. Cars are thrown, lamp posts used as clubs and heroes get blasted into billboards. Environments are designed with twists in mind as well as being ticking clocks for the battle. Spider-Man rarely fights Venom just to grind down his hit points. There’s usually something he’s got to stop, like a runaway subway train or a symbiote trying to take over Aunt May. The environment gets its own turn in combat, often introducing a twist, but always advancing the clock towards a bad end.

Luckily, this clock, called the GYRO system, also pushes heroes to push themselves. Every hero has abilities keyed to one of the levels of the system; Green, Yellow, Red, and Out. Heroes can use abilities from the current threat level or anything previously unlocked. This also doubles as the health levels of the main characters in the fight. It’s a fantastic mirror of comic books in that bigger abilities are available in the red zone as the hero, with a torn costume and ruffled hair, digs deep to stop their nemesis from winning. Heroes recover quickly in between action scenes, but the GYRO system keeps the tension up during the scene.

Heroes are built in one of two main methods; a guided creation and a random one. Players randomly roll or choose to assemble a hero from four broad elements; Background, Power Source, Archetype and Personality. Each of these categories is broad enough that two players could choose overlapping categories and have wildly different characters. Even the random roll option is about providing a handful of choices. Players also choose two Principles which, in addition to offering twist suggestions provides some narrative permissions. The aforementioned Principle of Stealth will also let that character know the best way in and out of a location.

Villains are built along similar lines but their construction offers something I don’t see a lot in RPGs these days; advice on how to play to their strengths in combat. The categories offer suggested matches that make it easy to build villains that have challenging mechanics while still feeling like full characters.

Continuing the comic theme, Sentinel Comics RPG doesn’t have a heavy XP system. Comic book characters tend to be static, and the experience options come out to “swap stuff around” and “rebuild the character for the next story arc”. I find that’s more of a feature than a bug, but folks who enjoy “zero to hero” level progression might get turned off by this element.

Sentinel Comics RPG is a fantastic comic book roleplaying game that offers depth without the massive point buys of yesteryear. Fans of the card game should definitely pick it up but anyone who ever dreamed of punching evil right in the face should definitely give it a look too.
 
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Continuing the comic theme, Sentinel Comics RPG doesn’t have a heavy XP system. Comic book characters tend to be static, and the experience options come out to “swap stuff around” and “rebuild the character for the next story arc”. I find that’s more of a feature than a bug, but folks who enjoy “zero to hero” level progression might get turned off by this element.

So, I have a copy of the game, and I generally agree with your assessments - it looks like a lot of fun, and has some new bits fo design that are intriguing. Most of my group are fans of the card game, so I am hoping to use Sentinels for the "return to the table" arc when the world allows for in-person gaming again.

I'd like to add a note for your readers with respect to this bit about advancement. Yes, Sentinels Comics RPG doesn't have a strong XP-style character advancement system. But...

The game includes a number of ways to earn "Hero points" - you can earn up to 5 points per session, and turn those directly into floating bonuses you can apply to the next session. If you don't use those bonuses in your next session, they expire. The points transfer into bonuses 1-for-1. If you earn 5 Hero points, you can carry them as five +1 bonuses, or a +2 and a +3, or a +4 and a +1, and such. Any combination totaling five.

But, there's very specifically room on the sheet for four bonuses of +4. Which should be impossible. You can't earn 16 Hero Points in one session, and these bonuses expire.

So, I dropped them a line asking about the inconsistency. Their response: "You are correct that there's no way to get more than one +4 floating bonus... yet :)"

From which I gather that, if the game does well, we may see some expansions of rules that might cover areas we might currently find lack something.
 
Last edited:

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Is the comic based on Marion G Harmon's Wearing the Cape series?

There is no actual comic. Sentinels Comics RPG is based on a cooperative card game.

The name "Sentinels" is used by the books you are referring to, and Sentinels of the Multiverse, but that seems to be coincidence - they were both released in the same year (2011), so it looks like Harmon and the game designers just separately happened to use it.

Also, DriveThruRPG already has a listing for "Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game", which looks to be built on Fate Core as the basic engine.
 


robowieland

Adventurer
There is no actual comic. Sentinels Comics RPG is based on a cooperative card game.

The name "Sentinels" is used by the books you are referring to, and Sentinels of the Multiverse, but that seems to be coincidence - they were both released in the same year (2011), so it looks like Harmon and the game designers just separately happened to use it.

Also, DriveThruRPG already has a listing for "Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game", which looks to be built on Fate Core as the basic engine.

Although the podcast where they discuss their made up comic book company that created this setting is delightful.
 

Toriel

Explorer
I GM'd a game at a convention before the pandemic, using their quick start rules, and it was a lot of fun. The mechanics are interesting and allow a lot of freedom in adjudicating actions and adding to the story.
 

Almost off-topic.

Sometimes I have tried to imagine a superhero TTRPG, with leveling up, but "fused" with wuxia, I mean some characters can enjoy fantastic powers but also the "ordinary humans" with enough training, like the cultivators from wuxia genre, also can accomplish prodigious feats, like martial artists from Mortal Kombat defeating superhumans from DC. Do you remember the animation video "Batman from Shangai". Let's imagine even more "wuxia", jumping over trees. Batgirl could face Naruto or Hawkeye could channel ki energy into his arrows to overcome bulletproof armor or force shields by killer robots.

Oh, comme on!! it couldn't be worse than superheroes skins in Fortnite.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Almost off-topic.

Oh, no almost about it :p

So, SCRPG has an interesting trait - character abilities and effects are not defined in any absolute sense. It isn't like, "With a roll of X, you can lift 100 pounds, with a roll of Y you can lift a ton". Everything is relative.

This eliminates the question of how Batman, who often is depicted as dealing with "street level" enemies, manage to be effective next to Superman. The "really good" result scales to meet the genre you're trying to depict, not some objective scale. When Bats is working a street level story, he has street level effects. When he's with Superman, he has Superman level effects.

And no, you don't try to reconcile the two. SCRPG is aiming at Silver Age comics, where this wackiness was commonplace, and nobody cared.
 



robowieland

Adventurer
Oh, no almost about it :p

So, SCRPG has an interesting trait - character abilities and effects are not defined in any absolute sense. It isn't like, "With a roll of X, you can lift 100 pounds, with a roll of Y you can lift a ton". Everything is relative.

This eliminates the question of how Batman, who often is depicted as dealing with "street level" enemies, manage to be effective next to Superman. The "really good" result scales to meet the genre you're trying to depict, not some objective scale. When Bats is working a street level story, he has street level effects. When he's with Superman, he has Superman level effects.

And no, you don't try to reconcile the two. SCRPG is aiming at Silver Age comics, where this wackiness was commonplace, and nobody cared.

This is a bit of Marvel Heroic DNA that I really like in the game.

Also, rolling up characters is just flat out fun. We did a run tonight and got a cosmic graffiti artist, a half demon/half cyborg friendly robot that looks terrifying, and a lab assistant with light powers DESPERATE to become a well-known hero.
 

Stacie GmrGrl

Adventurer
One of the interesting game design choices of SCRPG is that it does away with the separate Attack roll/Damage roll steps.

In this game, if you do the Attack Action, you always Hit. It's taken me a while to get used to that.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
One of the interesting game design choices of SCRPG is that it does away with the separate Attack roll/Damage roll steps.

In this game, if you do the Attack Action, you always Hit. It's taken me a while to get used to that.

While I know the game puts it that way, for folks here, it is perhaps better to say that there is one roll that determines both success and damage, rather than having them separate as in D&D.

The "all attacks hit" is the game's basic narrative interpretation of this, but you can fail that attack roll, or otherwise not do damage, and in those cases, saying the character missed may be appropriate.
 



Stacie GmrGrl

Adventurer
While I know the game puts it that way, for folks here, it is perhaps better to say that there is one roll that determines both success and damage, rather than having them separate as in D&D.

The "all attacks hit" is the game's basic narrative interpretation of this, but you can fail that attack roll, or otherwise not do damage, and in those cases, saying the character missed may be appropriate.
Maybe, but there isn't a single example of that happening in all the many examples in the book of when people do the Attack Action. In every example damage is done.

They also use Health as an overall representation if the person taking all kinds of 'damage.' It can be physical, mental, or social. I know this mimics the board/card game and how that works so they kept that in the rpg for the GYRO color system.

I'm just not a fan of how abstracted it is in the rpg. My opinion might change if I ever get to play the game, so I am basing my opinion on what I read.

It's a different paradigm and I admit to having some cognitive difference with it.
 

Cognitive difference how a game rule is "supposed" to be can be a big hurdle.

In teaching Cypher, a game that twists a lot of game rule conventions, people who have never played an RPG pick it up much faster than gamers who have set expectations of RPG rules and concepts.

I'm guilty of it as I am still trying to wrap my head around Cortex. But this set of rules seems promising.

There's also be some armchair D&D theory that skill checks often fall flat because they are a one-rule resolution and perhaps they would do better if they had some hit points as well.
 

I just asked because I finished the eight book, and he mentioned he was writing stuff for an RPG.

Yes, it's a quite nice FATE based system; it adds some crunch to cover superheroic levels of ability that work well, and allow you to build the characters you see in the books. FATE's a good choice because the book series has a significant amount of interpersonal stuff happening, and the FATE engine works well for that style of superheroic genre.

With MASKS, ICONS, Wearing the Cape and the Sentinels RPG on my shelf at the moment, I have an excellent set of choices for a more character-based and fluid supers game than ever before!
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Maybe, but there isn't a single example of that happening in all the many examples in the book of when people do the Attack Action. In every example damage is done.

I quote from page 24, in the sidebar "For Veteran Players: "Not all Attacks deal damage -- if the effect die is low and the defender has armor or is using the Defend action, the Attack bounces harmlessly off a shield or something."

That "or something" could be a clean miss, if that fits the situation.

The point really is just that in SCRPG, you do a roll to have an effect. You don't roll to see if the effect happens, and then again to see how large the effect is - one roll does the entire job.
 

Related Articles

Visit Our Sponsor

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top