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Our current campaign is going to wind down in a few months, and I'm planning a new campaign. I'm looking for a system that has the following characteristics:

  • Supports a low-to-medium power superhero game, either modern day or post-WWII era.
  • Strong sense of "advantage / disadvantage" point system and interactions between players ("interactions between players" meaning that disadvantages encourage roleplaying and in-game conversation between players; a formal system similar to Smallville would be nice, but not necessary).
  • Quick combat system.
  • Has a "rule of cool" and plot-point mechanic (where good roleplaying allows the GM to give plot points, which can be used to increase the chance that something good happens). Note: plot-point mechanic is not the same as "give the players more XP." I want the characters to be the same level, but still reward players for creating dramatic situations.
  • Low character mortality.

I've done GURPS (which supports the first two options), but I've been getting away from GURPS because it doesn't have the plot point mechanic as far as I can tell, and character mortality seemed pretty high. Right now, we're running Cortex rules, but this doesn't easily support the range of super powers I'd like.

In the system recommendation, please include what characteristics the game does not include. Thanks.

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As this is a game-recommendation question, please adhere to the FAQ, the rules for subjective questions as outlined in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and our rules for game recommendations. All responses must cite actual experience or reference others' experiences!

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As this is a game-recommendation question, please adhere to both the FAQ and the rules for subjective questions as outlined in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and the guidance on recommendation questions on our Meta. In particular, all responses should be based on actual experience and contain references and examples whenever possible. –  mxyzplk Mar 27 '12 at 2:37
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Look guys, I had to fight to get system-rec questions kept on topic on this SE. The argument is that they pull worthless answers from people that haven't actually done what the question is asking for, but want to pitch their favorite system anyway. The more you do that, the more likely all these questions will go away. Read the system-rec guidelines again and FOLLOW THEM. –  mxyzplk Mar 28 '12 at 3:45

9 Answers 9

up vote 15 down vote accepted

The only one that comes to mind immediately is MWP's Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.

  • Supports low to medium power: just barely.
  • Point based advantage/disadvantage: No, but it does have "distinctions" which work as both.
  • interactions between players: yes. It can do PVP.
  • Quick Combat System: yes.
  • Plot Point Mechanic: Yes. drives the game, in fact. Use distinctions in disad mode to earn more; spend them to add extra dice to dice pools.
  • Rule of Cool: yes.
  • Low Character Mortality: Yes. It's emulating the Marvel universe, after all

For Comparison, the old TSR Advanced Marvel Super Heroes...

  • Supports low to medium power: yes but not great
  • Point based advantage/disadvantage: Not point based.
  • interactions between players: yes. It can do PVP.
  • Quick Combat System: Moderately so.
  • Plot Point Mechanic: Karma system can be used as a plot point mechanic; inherently includes rewards for good roleplay and for living up to the marvel universe expectations, but can be easily tweaked.
  • Rule of Cool: Not explicitly, but frequently implied.
  • Low Character Mortality: Yes. It's emulating the Marvel universe, after all.
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I agree that this game meets all of your criteria and that aramis has hit all the key points of why. I would like to add that it is written from the point of view that players will run actual Marvel characters, however, so generating your own will take a little thought and a little experimentation. It won't be hard, but the focus of the game is elsewhere at this stage. –  Runeslinger Mar 27 '12 at 1:51

A good fit for this is Mutants & Masterminds, currently in its third edition, also used to power the new DC Adventures RPG. It is a very large and well supported game line and is still in print, and has a third party licensing program (M&M Superlink) generating a large number more supplements from other people.

Supports low to medium power

Absolutely. Default starting point is PL10 (kinda like level 10 in D&D) but you can run at any PLs, and there are discussions of and supplements for that.

Modern or post-WWII

Default setting is modern and they have a variety of other "ages" supported in supplements (golden age, silver age, iron age, parallel worlds, etc.)

Point based

Yes, all powers and whatnot are bought with Power Points and there's a disad system.

Interactions between players

I don't know what this means.

Quick combat system

It's d20 based originally so it's pretty familiar, but gets rid of hit points and other resource tracking to make it faster.

Plot Point Mechanic

Yes, there are Victory Points that heroes and villains get to spend.

Low Character Mortality

Yeah, it's pretty hard to die in M&M. You have to get incapacitated then dying then dead, which even without Victory Points doesn't happen much.

And More

You can look through many of the rules on the M&M System Resource Document, since it's an Open Gaming License game!

I ran a M&M 1e campaign and have extensive session summaries and other records of it up on my blog.

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+1. M&M's victory point mechanic is really designed to support superhero-style fights, where one side has an advantage until the other side comes up with a clever trick that turns things around: In essence, you can spend a victory point to cause a power to have an unusual, non-standard effect. This has the fortunate side effect of encouraging PCs to explain unusual actions and plans as they perform them, as so many comic characters seem to do. –  GMJoe Mar 27 '12 at 5:49

Capes might fit your criteria. It's GM-less, very drama-oriented--some might call it "narrativist"--and the overriding Story point/drives mechanism trumps hero power levels, so you can have multiple levels of power interacting together. You create a character with three columns of traits: Powers, Personality, and I forget what the third is called, but for lack of a better Term I'll call it Idiom. Powers and Personality traits are what you might imagine; Idiom is things like "Casually overpower mortals", "You know you want to", and (my favorite) "Massive Property Damage".

You can not only play heroes and villains, but you can play objects, locations, and moods/situations as well. It's hard to describe how it works without going into detail, but the details of Scene resolution can be found in the sample rules. Needless to say, the "rule of cool" is what it's all about here.

To elaborate on my previous answer, re: Capes (there're test-drive rules in the link I mentioned before, but here's a quick-and-dirty version):

The long-term resource you're managing are your Story points and your Drives ("Honor","Justice","Love", etc.). You incur debt on your drives by using powers, and can gain Story points even if you lose a conflict.

The basic mechanical idea is that Conflicts are stated, claimed, and resolved. Stating a conflict means literally writing it down and selecting a "pro" and "con" side, and placing respective d6s on each side, both set at 1. You have powers ranked from 1 to 5 (potentially), and you can use a power rated equal to or higher than a current die to re-roll it. You can also "split" dice, e.g., taking a 4 and substituting it for 2 twos, to increase your total, although there are rules governing and restricting this tactic. You then narrate how your power affects the situation, and players are given pretty wide leeway in this aspect. This is where the narrative and cinematic aspect comes in, in my estimation.

Each scene can have multiple conflicts, not only "stop the villain from harming innocents", but also things like "impress the skeptical boyfriend" or "demonstrate that I should be group leader". You can play virtually anything that influences the outcome of a scene, which includes heroes, villains, elderly relatives, even objects like ships or Doomsday devices. And you can switch characters between scenes (although there is no rule that says you have to, and you can declare a character to be yours exclusively, if you like).

Power level is determined by group consensus. The ratings of powers says nothing about their in-game metrics, only how much they can influence a conflict. In other words, you may have Flight of 1; you might be able to fly faster than light, but you won't be able to affect any dice higher than 1. This requires a little creative narration to determine, but in my (limited) experience, that's where half the fun is.

As a consequence, your character doesn't gain new powers or skills over time--it's all about managing Story points and Drive debt. But there's nothing that says you can't rework your character sheet from time to time, either.

Typically, one player for the session decides what it's going to be "about", and may have a few sketched-out ideas about locations and NPCs, but beyond that, narrative control is equally shared. (I'm not a big fan of that normally, but in this game, it works for me; possibly because, when I GM a more traditional game, I'm aiming to immerse my players in a world that I hope will dazzle and entertain them, and Capes, by default, is set in a super-powered version of our world.)

The one "take-away" about this game, in my opinion, is that it plays like a boardgame, but still spins stories like the best of traditional RPGs.

The game is deliberately vague on how much your character can lift, or how fast he can fly; powers are simply rated on a level of 1 to 5. You stake a conflict in a scene and claim a side, and set a 'pro' and 'con' die (d6) with the 1 facing up, on a scrap of paper representing the conflict. You can re-roll a die if your power has a higher number, and you can split the die into two at some points to get a higher total. You win or lose Story points and debt on your Drives, which are things like Love or Justice.

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Champions (aka the Hero System) would be a good fit

  • Supports a low-to-medium power superhero game, either modern day or post-WWII era.

Point based character creation allows a huge variety of character styles with the GM able to set the level of power in the game.

  • Strong sense of "advantage / disadvantage" point system and interactions between players.

Advantages and disadvantages change point costs and get used a lot in game.

  • Quick combat system.

This is where Champions might not be a great fit. The turns happen reasonably quickly but combat can get complex and drag.

  • Has a "rule of cool" and plot-point mechanic (where good roleplaying allows the GM to give plot points, which can be used to increase the chance that something good happens).

The number of points a player receives at the end of each session is dependent on their roleplaying in game

  • Low character mortality.

Most attacks are non-lethal, with characters with lethal abilities frowned upon etc. Very rarely would a PC die.

Other

As there are a lot of options, character creation can get confusing at first, but the system is the same for superpowers, building bases, vehicles etc so once you get it, it is pretty easy. I haven't seen the latest version but previously the books have had good examples and are reasonably clear. I've played a number of campaigns with this system and it has always been a lot of fun.

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Icons is a superhero system worth a look if you exhaust other ideas; as for the boxes ticked:

Supports a low-to-medium power superhero game, either modern day or post-WWII era.

Era adaptable, powers are randomly generated but this tends to mean characters can't minmax themselves during generation which I found surprisingly refreshing and playable. Stats are adaptable and characters can actually be configured to some degree (you choose which powers you want to focus on, of the randoms you get)

Strong sense of "advantage / disadvantage" point system

None of that here for Icons that I saw (or was fed during play anyway!)

Quick combat system.

Yes, very simple combat system. Few stats and rolls to compare, little damage to track.

Has a "rule of cool" and plot-point mechanic

Update: There are mechanics for giving yourself an edge or changing powers that you've got to do something similar by spending points (like plot points, but can't remember exactly what they're called) these are in short supply but are handed out by the GM as reward. Example: My superhero "Uppercut" used his Bad Karma power to make a super villan step on the third rail of an underground line, which I then spent a plot point to make the electricity short circuit his invulnerability power for a round so we could all beat the stuffing out of him next round.

However these usually have to be tagged to something in your background (a bit like aspects in ) or follow a list of other rules so you don't just use them all the time.

Low character mortality.

None of us died in the games we played; but the system will allow for horrible termination or "they're taking a nap" type approaches.

Addendum: Someone else commented it was based on ; really didn't read that from the system at all; if it is it wasn't recognisable by me!

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I know you already have an answer, but I wanted to put forward 'Cinematic Uni-System' as an option. It has clear grades for power levels. It has super simple combat that leads into effective and easy combat designs. It brings easy customization and a very, very clear advantage/disadvantage system to the game.

It has an excellent drama point system which allows for some great game effects.

The system itself is so easy to learn that my gaming group was able to easily bring in a new crop of players who had never RPed before. They felt successful and knowledgeable by the end of the campaign.

The Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel RPGs uses Cinematic Uni-System, but is by no means the only thing you can do with it. Powers have simple clear definitions and an easy growth curve. You can find some basic example of superpowers in the Angel Corebook where they deal with supernatural powers like telekinesis, pyrokinesis, super strength, super speed and so on. It was pretty easy for me to extrapolate other powers for my players based on the examples given there. I strongly suggest checking it out based on what you described in your question.

I ran a game where the team played the classic high schoolers developing super powers. The system is especially good at lower to mid power levels in my opinion. At the much higher levels of power it becomes a bit more cinematic and bit less dice rolling, but that's ultimately up to the Story Teller to control.

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I'm going to suggest a FATE based System like the dresden files rpg as alreadfy mentioned and give some more/different points in support.

-Supports a low-to-medium power superhero game, either modern day or post-WWII era.

*This one is a big huge check. The default setting is an urban environment consisting of virtually any city you & your players create, I've run games in an eberron type world as well as a shadowrun/rifts type setting using dresden files without any trouble, even better is that the character & city creation process offloads some of the GM work onto your players by getting them involved & giving you things that you know interests or amuses them.

-Strong sense of "advantage / disadvantage" point system and interactions between players ("interactions between players" meaning that disadvantages encourage roleplaying and in-game conversation between players; a formal system similar to Smallville would be nice, but not necessary). * characters & everything really have aspects that define them as a person (as opposed to a sheet of numbers), having them used against you nabs you a fate point if you don't choose to spend one to ignore your nature. Fate points can be spent to invoke aspects for roll bonus's & rerolls or to declare things into existence (i.e. declare there to be a letter opener on the office desk suitable for use as a knife)

-Has a "rule of cool" and plot-point mechanic (where good roleplaying allows the GM to give plot points, which can be used to increase the chance that something good happens). Note: plot-point mechanic is not the same as "give the players more XP." I want the characters to be the same level, but still reward players for creating dramatic situations. * You can give out fate points for just about anything you please as a GM, but even better is the ability to offer a fate point & compel a character to do something likely in their nature & usually have them happily gobble up the fate point and say thinking like "yea, your right... a modern day knight wouldn't let her go down there alone.. I'm going to..." -Low character mortality. -Quick combat system. *These two points got shuffled together because they are too closely entwined to separate individually. If you die in FATE, it's because you wanted to. Similar to Doctor Fate & many others putting on the helmet to effectively have their body stolen by the Lord of Order Nabu but practically get to play an "I win" card, there are rules that allow you to do some pretty spectacular stuff as part of your "death scene".

you have a small amount of "stress boxes" similar to the more familiar hitpoints where you are fine till you aren't. Once you go past stress boxes, you can: - Offer a concession where you clearly lose the fight & are put behind the 8ball, but get to negotiate the terms of the loss with the winning party (i.e. "how about maybe blah goes out of control & a wall falls on us while they get away with the macguffin?"). This usually happens pretty quickly once people realize the way things are going... keep reading for why - On top of your 2-4 points of stress (give or take a few depending on stats & powers), you have mild, moderate, severe, & extreme consequence slots that will eat a 2, 4, 6, or 8 points of incoming stress in exchange for picking up an aspect related to the attack that caused it. those aspects can be compelled (or self compelled!) to influence the character, instead of losing X hitpoints, they have some cracked ribs (or worse)affecting them logically for a duration tied to the aspect type. Because the larger consequences are pretty huge things & because concessions give them some control over shaping a bad outcome, they don't drag things out to the very end like Monty Python's black knight.

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Have you used it specifically for cinematic superheroes? –  mxyzplk Mar 28 '12 at 3:44
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its cinematic by nature of how its rules system works, your question is nearly the equivalent of "have you played a 4e based game with heavy tactical play?" and unless batman, the flash, the xmen, spawn, green lantern, and every other super hero I can think of are still superheros yes again..... I think you are trying to split hairs a bit too many times. I'm not the first person to suggest a fate based system, I just gave more detail... –  Tetra Mar 28 '12 at 4:53
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You are missing the point. Have you used it for a supers game? Playing Batman et al? If so, then that's fine, and I'll retract my -1. But if this is "I haven't used it for that but I'm sure it would work fine," then it's a bad answer by the site rules. Pretty simple, no hair splitting required. If someone asked for a tactical scifi game and you recommended 4e, but hadn't used it for scifi, it would be the same thing. Based on real experience vs talking out the ol' keister. –  mxyzplk Mar 28 '12 at 12:30
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what part of "yes again" confused you man? –  Tetra Mar 28 '12 at 14:07
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@Tetra do not confuse a member enforcing site policy with a member disliking the recommendation you are making. This site has specific guidelines for asking and answering questions. –  Runeslinger Apr 4 '12 at 5:58

Scion. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scion_%28role-playing_game%29

At the beginning you play the descended of a god. But at the start you are just a superior human (but not so far that you could lift a tank or something like that... But a single bullet wont kill you). Depending on the level of "High-Fantasy" you (and your group) want to have, you can go up to a half god or even to a full god. It´s made for the "now" time - but i dont see any problems do take it into the post ww II szenario - just make the weapons a bit weaker - that most likely should do the job...

The gm can give a player extra dices to increase the chance of doing something successfull, if the discription of the action is good.

It doesnt have an active parade, so battles aren´t to complicated. Just checking for your at throw for being above the enemy defense and then depending on the result a dmg throw.. thats it. :-)

The mortality of your charakters depends on the kind of enemy you give them If you let em fight against half-gods while they are just human... well, dont expect your characters to survive... ;-)

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I don't think Scion has a concept of "low-power". Even at Hero levels of Legend, Scions can do absolutely stupid things with their epic attributes. Hell, even at character creation, abilities like "God's Honest" can break stories in half. "I swear, officer, that armored truck belongs to me." Scion also uses the same tick-based combat system (plus stunting, IIRC) as Exalted, which can bog down fights. (And I say this as someone whose favorite tabletop game is Exalted.) –  Brian S Nov 12 '13 at 17:37

I'm actually in a superhero game right now that uses such a system.

Truth and Justice

It isn't class-based either, but it is entirely focused on making a convincing Superhero-central role-playing system, with rewards for playing in a heroic manner, and a wide variety of superpowers supported by the system, including non-super super heroes (like Batman or Karate Kid).

It should be noted that the rules can fly a bit loose in certain areas - technically speaking you're allowed to have any power you want, so long as you and the GM agree to how it works, and the conflicts also fly a bit loose and fast. It's a lot different than, for example, Dnd 3.5 combat systems.

Combat is broken down into basic conflicts, which can range from acutal superhero battle, to witty tet-a-tete hero banter, with damage delivered in 'failure' ranks against your ability to fight back, making longer battles more of a struggle and encouraging the use of 'tank' stats. The roll for success is 2d6+mod, which is a bit unusual, but not too complicated.

Our group currently hosts a Ghost, a Dragon, a Giant Psychic Robot Burger, A Ninja/Cat, and (essentially) a Samurai, but it can definitely support more traditional-style super heroes, and I do highly recommend it as a system that strongly supports a superhero-style of play.

You can look at some of the material and purchase the full game here if you are interested.

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