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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.
 
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Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland

robowieland

Explorer
It was easier for me to grasp because I play a lot of PbtA and Forged in the Dark games where "You miss, nothing happens" tends to be a rare outcome. My players leaned into taking twists to succeed because of it.
 

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Sunsword

Adventurer
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.

I backed it too and the Marvel Heroic/Cortex DNA combined with all attacks hitting has left me meh. I just wasn't a fan of Marvel Heroic and neither was my group. I think Greater Than Games made a beautiful book though and if you like Cortex, FATE, PbtA, etc you will probably enjoy this game immensely.
 

Sunsword

Adventurer
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.

Which is radically different for those of us who prefer traditional RPG rules. It's like games without Hit Points for me. I'm glad other people love them they just aren't for me.
 

AtomicPope

Explorer
I've been playing Sentinels RPG since the play testing was released. The Sentinels RPG system is probably the best representation of super heroics ever devised. Think of it like the Marvel Superheroes RPG, even with the green/yellow/red scheme. There is one big difference: Marvel system was geared towards failure or mediocre success, in Sentinels the PCs or villains, can always choose to succeed. That takes some getting used. Everything in Sentinels is driven by narrative, by the story you're telling as players and the GM.

The system itself is not built for level advancement or experience points either, which is great for a Superhero game. How much can Superman actually improve? Would we notice it? That flaw found in games like Champions or Marvel was just tossed out the window. You don't "improve" but you do "learn." It's a way for the PCs to show that you can't fool them twice. Also, unlike Marvel Superheroes RPG the system allows for dramatic wins, since everything is driven by the story. In the comics Spiderman could get injured and thwarted by a bank robber or gas grenade in one comic, then beat Daredevil or Wolverine in another. That actually happens in the Sentinels RPG. There are "hit points" just like in D&D but going to zero doesn't mean you're dead, you just "lost" this round.

The broad brushstrokes makes it VERY friendly to converting your favorite superheroes and bringing them into the game. Many Superheroes have the same "powers" but they just use them differently. That's all covered here as well. For Iron Man, the different suits are very easy do. Same with making different Captain Americas: WW2, basic Cap, Ultimates. The "version" can easily be expressed differently, which changes the play style, but not necessarily the powers.

We're currently playing with the idea of running an "Epic D&D" game using Sentinels RPG. We're all making our characters and we'll probably start in two months when our current campaign ends. The Super Villains of D&D work very well for this style of play: Master Vampires, Ancient Dragons, Cthulhu, Demon Princes, etc. Just the thought of trying D&D in a new way is exciting.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Which is radically different for those of us who prefer traditional RPG rules. It's like games without Hit Points for me. I'm glad other people love them they just aren't for me.

Except, of course, that this game has hit points. :p
 
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Stacie GmrGrl

Adventurer
I've been playing Sentinels RPG since the play testing was released. The Sentinels RPG system is probably the best representation of super heroics ever devised. Think of it like the Marvel Superheroes RPG, even with the green/yellow/red scheme. There is one big difference: Marvel system was geared towards failure or mediocre success, in Sentinels the PCs or villains, can always choose to succeed. That takes some getting used. Everything in Sentinels is driven by narrative, by the story you're telling as players and the GM.

The system itself is not built for level advancement or experience points either, which is great for a Superhero game. How much can Superman actually improve? Would we notice it? That flaw found in games like Champions or Marvel was just tossed out the window. You don't "improve" but you do "learn." It's a way for the PCs to show that you can't fool them twice. Also, unlike Marvel Superheroes RPG the system allows for dramatic wins, since everything is driven by the story. In the comics Spiderman could get injured and thwarted by a bank robber or gas grenade in one comic, then beat Daredevil or Wolverine in another. That actually happens in the Sentinels RPG. There are "hit points" just like in D&D but going to zero doesn't mean you're dead, you just "lost" this round.

The broad brushstrokes makes it VERY friendly to converting your favorite superheroes and bringing them into the game. Many Superheroes have the same "powers" but they just use them differently. That's all covered here as well. For Iron Man, the different suits are very easy do. Same with making different Captain Americas: WW2, basic Cap, Ultimates. The "version" can easily be expressed differently, which changes the play style, but not necessarily the powers.

We're currently playing with the idea of running an "Epic D&D" game using Sentinels RPG. We're all making our characters and we'll probably start in two months when our current campaign ends. The Super Villains of D&D work very well for this style of play: Master Vampires, Ancient Dragons, Cthulhu, Demon Princes, etc. Just the thought of trying D&D in a new way is exciting.
I feel like Sentinel Comics is one of the few rpgs I would find difficult to emulate characters like Superman and other beings that basically have complete invulnerability to normal physical damage. There isn't a character in the game that has a defensive power structure that is built to shrug off physical damage like Superman can.

If you can build it, please do.

I do think one of the charms of SCRPG is that it's not trying to emulate other universes. It's its own universe, so beings like Superman don't fit. Making original characters is much more fun.

But... They have abstracted some things too far (IMO). They pulled off a rpg that mimics the Sentinels of the Multiverse card game a bit too much.

I like the 6 Action Types, but they are missing a general utility action type like someone trying to be stealthy, hiding and taking cover. Unless being stealthy is abstracted as a Defense action, but I interpret Defense actions as a more immediate response to an Attack.

I had confusions about other games in the past that I eventually figured out, like Fate games and Aspects. I'll eventually wrap my head around SCRPG.
 

fba827

Adventurer
You might want to double check the spelling on the author teams’ name ( one of them looks like autocorrect changed what you meant to type ).
One of them ( if not more) has an enworld account and might notice :)

anyway, am a fan of the card game and looking forward to this too.
 

robowieland

Explorer
I feel like Sentinel Comics is one of the few rpgs I would find difficult to emulate characters like Superman and other beings that basically have complete invulnerability to normal physical damage. There isn't a character in the game that has a defensive power structure that is built to shrug off physical damage like Superman can.

If you can build it, please do.

I do think one of the charms of SCRPG is that it's not trying to emulate other universes. It's its own universe, so beings like Superman don't fit. Making original characters is much more fun.

But... They have abstracted some things too far (IMO). They pulled off a rpg that mimics the Sentinels of the Multiverse card game a bit too much.

I like the 6 Action Types, but they are missing a general utility action type like someone trying to be stealthy, hiding and taking cover. Unless being stealthy is abstracted as a Defense action, but I interpret Defense actions as a more immediate response to an Attack.

I had confusions about other games in the past that I eventually figured out, like Fate games and Aspects. I'll eventually wrap my head around SCRPG.
The game I ran on Friday had a half cyborg/half demon character that was pretty tanky.

The stealthy action could be run as an overcome if you're trying not to be seen or as a hinder to inflict a penalty on a potential attacker.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I feel like Sentinel Comics is one of the few rpgs I would find difficult to emulate characters like Superman and other beings that basically have complete invulnerability to normal physical damage. There isn't a character in the game that has a defensive power structure that is built to shrug off physical damage like Superman can.

Maybe not. I haven't checked. We could note that in this game, damage does not equal meat. With proper framing, you could have a character that shrugs off physical damage, but gets worn down in some other way - energy cells depleting, or what have you.

If you want a character that cannot be taken out of a scene... that's a problem, from a game design perspective. Superman is kinda OP, in that sense.

I like the 6 Action Types, but they are missing a general utility action type like someone trying to be stealthy, hiding and taking cover. Unless being stealthy is abstracted as a Defense action, but I interpret Defense actions as a more immediate response to an Attack.

Taking cover would probably be a Defend action.

Hiding is probably either an Overcome or Hinder, depending on the situation. Wraith is a stealth-heavy character - To the point where Stealth is one of her two base Principles. It gives her the Ability "Overcome to infiltrate somewhere or avoid detection. Use your Max die. You and each of your allies gain a hero point."
 
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robowieland

Explorer
Heritage/Old Legacy is meant to be a Superman-style character. He's got some beefy damage reduction with his 1/2/3 automatic reduction ability plus his ability to boost himself and recover from his yellow abilities. The environment is probably going to time out before he will even get into yellow.

I've seen a few good threads around the web where people built DC/Marvel heroes using the SCRPG system. That helped me see the difference between SCRPG and Marvel Heroic.
 

Are those just generic superheroes on the cover or specific people from the card game? If the latter, can anybody tell me what that emblem is on the chest of the superhero at the top (with the Power Girl color scheme)? Is that supposed to be a lantern or something?

Johnathan
 

mcmillan

Explorer
Are those just generic superheroes on the cover or specific people from the card game? If the latter, can anybody tell me what that emblem is on the chest of the superhero at the top (with the Power Girl color scheme)? Is that supposed to be a lantern or something?

Johnathan
Those are characters from the games. The woman you're asking about is Legacy - her gimmick is being the latest in a line where each firstborn child inherits the powers of their parent along with a new power going back to an ancestor that was Paul Revere's apprentice. His only power was a dangersense, which allowed him to tip off Revere for his famous ride, thus the lantern. The card game has Legacy as her father, with one of the RPG one-shot adventures ending with the old Legacy deciding it's time to step back and focus on training new heroes (taking the new name Heritage), with the new Legacy being in the RPG
 

AtomicPope

Explorer
I feel like Sentinel Comics is one of the few rpgs I would find difficult to emulate characters like Superman and other beings that basically have complete invulnerability to normal physical damage. There isn't a character in the game that has a defensive power structure that is built to shrug off physical damage like Superman can.

If you can build it, please do.
Damage is not necessary "damage" in Sentinels. However, if you wanted to make an all powerful, invulnerable Superman then you could just make him something out of reach using the Villain creation method and give him Overpowered and Formidable. Those combined are just an evil Superman: massive health pool, max dice, ignores anything not related to his weakness. On the flip side, you could create a hero version using the Armored archetype and then building around an impenetrable defense, even give him the Red Power "Impenetrable Defense".


I like the 6 Action Types, but they are missing a general utility action type like someone trying to be stealthy, hiding and taking cover. Unless being stealthy is abstracted as a Defense action, but I interpret Defense actions as a more immediate response to an Attack.
You're describing an Overcome action. Any time you want to do a skill check that's just an Overcome. Sometimes you have a complex environments that require more than a simple roll (you're not just sneaking around, there are obstacles and traps in your way). The complications are then built around "Stealth". If you have no quality "Stealth" then expect a complication because you won't be rolling your best dice. The easiest complications are a penalty applied to your next action. For Stealth the narrative might be that you're moving slowly and therefore you're not in a good position to fight. Complications are based on your roll, and the action. If you have a "minor twist" it might be a penalty based on your mid roll (the die with the middle value). However, since we're talking Stealth the complication might be you've alerted minions and must deal with them swiftly. The narrative might play out that you succeed in sneaking but now there are guards who "heard something" and they're going to investigate and now there's a number of minions equal to a die you rolled.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
The easiest complications are a penalty applied to your next action. For Stealth the narrative might be that you're moving slowly and therefore you're not in a good position to fight. Complications are based on your roll, and the action. If you have a "minor twist" it might be a penalty based on your mid roll (the die with the middle value). However, since we're talking Stealth the complication might be you've alerted minions and must deal with them swiftly. The narrative might play out that you succeed in sneaking but now there are guards who "heard something" and they're going to investigate and now there's a number of minions equal to a die you rolled.

So, in the game's language, what you are talking about are Twists. And generally, you have a choice about them.

SCRPG has the concept of a range of success. You can fail. You can succeed. Or, you can succeed, with some sort of complication/Twist. The game recognizes Major and Minor twists.

A note to contradict what is said here - if you succeed with a Twist, that Twist can't negate what you were trying to do. If you are trying to stealth your way in, the Twist can't be, "But you alerted some guards...", because your intent was to not alert anyone. It would need to be more, "But you found more guards in the control room than you expected - they are still unaware anyone's sneaking in... for now."
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Is it me or is there no PDF available for the core rules yet?

There is the Sentinels Comics Starter Kit Digital Download. It contains a PDF gameplay guide, which lays out the basic mechanics of play. It doesn't include character generation or setting information, but does come with six characters (from the card game universe) and a series of adventures to play, and is free on their site.

The core rulebook doesn't seem to be available for sale in pdf yet.
 


Is the comic based on Marion G Harmon's Wearing the Cape series?
There is no Comic. The original IP is a card game: Sentinels of the Universe; the 2nd ed is Sentinels of the Multiverse. There is a minis game, as well: Sentinel Tactics. And a newer boardgame that just kickstarted.

As for the stock heroes of the card game, most of them have write ups in the corebook.

It's interesting that the starter kit mentions both MHRP and Apocalypse World... and it really is a good mesh of the two approaches.

I ran a campaign that ran a full six episodes... it is a wonderful game. Said campaign ended before collection 2 because of the Quarantine. I've got my gorgeous hardcover... but it definitely works better FTF. For the same reason as MHRP: showing what you're doing by pointing on your sheet. And tracking who has gone.

I'll also observe: it's likely that they are waiting to sell the game until the supplements in the KS are in KS Backer Hands.
 
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AtomicPope

Explorer
So, in the game's language, what you are talking about are Twists. And generally, you have a choice about them.

SCRPG has the concept of a range of success. You can fail. You can succeed. Or, you can succeed, with some sort of complication/Twist. The game recognizes Major and Minor twists.

A note to contradict what is said here - if you succeed with a Twist, that Twist can't negate what you were trying to do. If you are trying to stealth your way in, the Twist can't be, "But you alerted some guards...", because your intent was to not alert anyone. It would need to be more, "But you found more guards in the control room than you expected - they are still unaware anyone's sneaking in... for now."
Yes that's correct. A Twist that added minions would have to be something unrelated to the Stealth check.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member

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