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On the recommendation of one of my players, I'm watching Misfits, a British TV show about kids (Their ages aren't so far specifically stated; they're old enough to drink and young enough to live at home, so late-teens to early 20s, I guess) serving community-service sentences who get super powers. The recommendation included an explicit desire for me to run a game like this.

I'm watching it and thinking about what system to run it in. I want to ask this question more clearly than my last system-for-setting question, so here are some specific points to consider when answering:

WARNING! Spoilers Below!

If you haven't watched the series but plan to, you might not want to read what follows. I tried to separate setting spoilers from the system requirements, but it just didn't work.

  • The world is gritty and the power level is relatively low. It reminded me of Wild Cards, with "the storm" as the catalyzing event. Therefore, the system must support fine gradations in power - the scale is pretty low, so a small advantage needs to be representable.
  • Powers are uncontrollable - at least at first. Alisha's lust-inspiring power is uncontrolled as far as I have watched, and the immortality power (obviously) works without conscious effort. Curtis' time rewind is a power of huge significance, but it's not controlled by the beginning of the second season either. Therefore the system must support uncontrolled and unreliable powers.
  • The system you recommend must support regular humans as significant combat threats - Sally gave Simon a real fight. Player character death must be a real possibility.
  • This is also an ensemble drama, like Buffy, and much of the story is about the changing relationships between the characters.

When answering, please include only one system per answer to facilitate voting.

In your answer please address the following:

  • How that system fits the given criteria
  • What special or unique features of the system are particularly suited to driving this style of play

I will not accept answers along the lines of, "You can do this (or anything) in any system". They will be downvoted and / or flagged for deletion. This question presupposes that System Does Matter.

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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!

closed as off-topic by BESW, Purple Monkey, MrLemon, KorvinStarmast, nitsua60 Jan 14 at 13:42

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Quick clarification on one of the points: does player character death have to be non-consensual to count? I'm thinking of putting Smallville up on the list, but death is only a risk if the player is willing to "ante his life," so to speak. – Jadasc Sep 9 '11 at 0:56
@Jadasc - go ahead and make your case in an answer. I have no problem with putting death in the hands of the player as long as there is some reason to push the stakes that high. – gomad Sep 9 '11 at 5:40
I've split a couple of questions, and emphasized the one system per answer part of the question. – gomad Sep 9 '11 at 16:31
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Have a look at Unknown Armies. There are different power levels (the one that would fit Misfits is of course street), different schools of magic (which could fit quiet well), and plenty of horrible things that can happen. It would take a little tweaking the adept magic I guess but it should not be that hard at all given that the characters will not know how it works. Combat is utterly lethal with mortals and best avoided at all costs. Add magic into the mix and you are in for a world of hurt (TM). Mostly, I love their alienation system, probably one of the best I have ever seen.

Of course, Fate would work as well but I think that Unknown Armies is a better fit.

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Hmm. Well, Mutant City Blues is a good modern day low powered supers setting - it would be perfect for the new SyFy show Alphas for example. It doesn't have the uncontrolled powers, though that would be a trivial modification. Normal humans are definitely a threat. It handles investigation very well, as it is GUMSHOE based, but doesn't have explicit relationship mechanics. I've played it and if your game is heavily about investigation, it'll work well.

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I love the power-relation chart that MCB implements. I'm going to have to pick it up even if it doesn't Misfits – gomad Sep 13 '11 at 18:45

GURPS Supers would be absolutely perfect for this. Give characters a normal human point level, with one (usually, so far) power built separately. I'll even write them up if you like, I love Misfits.

GURPS PCs are easy to kill if you're using things like hit location and the bleeding rules -- I haven't seen anything in the show that wouldn't be straightforward just using the rules as written. (GURPS did Wild Cards and the two are quite similar in terms of mechanics -- normal people who also have powers. Unless one of your powers is "being bulletproof", you're going to have to worry in a fight with normals.) Unfortunately with regular GURPS, it is not possible for players to die. But their characters can.

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LOL! Yes, you are correct! I am off to edit my shame away... – gomad Sep 13 '11 at 18:43

A modification of the DFRPG system (Fate 3.0) could make for an interesting system to adapt to this.

You can adjust the power level by adjusting the number of base refresh your players get. A typical low power DFRPG campaign will start at 7, but you can adjust that down if you want. you can also scale down their skill points. a typical low power DFRPG campaign starts at 20.

Most powers could be treated as a form of channeling, which requires a discipline roll to control. You can modify how much disciplin they need to roll in order for them to control their ability (ie, instead of them putting in so much power and having a discernable discipline roll, you get to decide how much they need to roll to control their power). and with a lower disciplin and conviction skill it'll be harder for them to do bigger stuff.

Normal mortals in DFRPG get an advantage in the way of more fate points, and are not to be discounted.

Aspects play a big role in DFRPG. The initial start of the game has players generate aspects based off of past events that have occured with their character and interactions their characters had with other characters. Every couple of milestones you could have players change one of their aspects to reflect the dynamics of their relationships.


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Wild Talents might also fit the bill. It's based on the One-Roll Engine (ORE), the same thing that powers REIGN and Monsters and Other Childish Things. I haven't had the chance to play it yet, so I don't know how well it handles your criteria in practice. That said, the rules allow for scaling from "normal human" all the way up to "epic" (ie. Superman). It also explicitly has the Uncontrollable flaw for power creation. There are no real mechanics for character relationships that I could find, but they might exist in an expansion.

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I like the ORE as I've found it in Reign. I might have to take a look at Wild Talents. – gomad Sep 9 '11 at 19:14

You might use PS238 - it's a RPG based on the comic of the same name, about super powered grade school kids, and it's based on the powerful supers ruleset Champions, where you can add drawbacks like "uncontrolled" to all the powers as much as you want. It's very flexible and has a lot of source material, but requires you to really want to learn you some rules. It also wouldn't have specific relationship mechanics. I haven't played PS238 per se, just read through it in the gaming store, but have played plenty of Champions; it works well on the low end of power. I'd use it if you like crunch and don't need the relationship stuff to be backed up by rules.

It uses the Hero system, which clicking through the review link provided reveals.

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Along the FATE lines, check out ICONS. It's a FATE variant specifically for supers games, with all of FATE's usual scalability and relationship mechanics. There are even rules for "super-teams." Also, being able to compel Aspects works well for triggering uncontrollable powers at dramatically appropriate moments.

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ICONS has none of FATE's usual scalability and relationship mechanics — although it's inspired by FATE, even its creators disclaim it as a FATE game. The random character creation system means that it's difficult to keep the power level low, and the baseline level is somewhere around early X-Men/Avengers level. It's not particularly gritty, and character death is hard to do accidentally. – Jadasc Sep 9 '11 at 15:48
1) Random character generation is explicitly called out as optional. 2) The power scale explicitly goes from Weak Human to Cosmic. 3) From personal experience, it does gritty just fine. You don't have to kill a character to make them hurt. – chaosys Sep 9 '11 at 16:27
@chaosys 1) It's the point-based system that's explicitly optional, as cited on page 17. 2) The numbers do, but a 45-point character is going to come up somewhere in the middle-heroic to superheroic range, rather than "mortals with a power." 3) Fair enough, but what the OP asks for is the risk of death in superheroic combat. As written, ICONS is better at comic-books than spec-fic TV. Which is fine — it draws on Marvel Super Heroes as an inspiration — but it's a bad choice for this question. – Jadasc Sep 9 '11 at 16:51
@Jadasc: 1) Given an alternate system, that makes all options optional. 2) So use fewer than 45 points. 3) OK, I'll grant you that. But I don't think that makes this a bad answer for the question. Keep in mind that, due to the FATE origins, ICONS is more narrative-based than, say, HERO. That means death may not be random, but is possible when dramatically appropriate. – chaosys Sep 9 '11 at 17:05
@chaosys 1) The random system is presented as the rules; the point-based system is called out as, "if your GM lets you." That makes one the main, and one the alternate. If we can't come to an agreement on that, I think we're not going to reconcile. 2) So use a different system. :) 3) Again, I don't think we're going to reconcile on this one — ICONS is more narrative-driven than HERO or GURPS, but that doesn't make it especially suitable for the campaign as described. It's better than some superhero systems, but not especially appropriate. – Jadasc Sep 9 '11 at 18:08

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