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Superhero System Recommendation - For Tired Players + Streamlined Character Sheets + Great Encounters + Interesting Advancement/Development

Jerry D. Grayson

Putting the f-u in FUN
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I have to agree, I'm not sure that game exists (yet).
you may be able to hack HeroClix to make things work.

It would be interesting to see a spreadsheet that takes all the supers games and list them using all those parameters.


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Sentinels of Echo City Deluxe Edition... It's an old school superhero rpg. Its level based but only goes to level 6. The character sheet looks like it could hold all your information. Character generation is mostly random. All the powers are called Traits and are described in a very succinct way and in just 32 pages. Half the book is GM and setting stuff. It's 192 pages total. Print available on lulu.

Metagene is a rules light supers game with its own setting. 230 pages. The character is rather simple and unsophisticated in look. Character generation is point based or random, GMs choice. It has a lot of options but the overall amount of math is a lot more minimal compared to games like Mutants and Masterminds. All powers have a Power Class, which lets you know how powerful they are and each power tells you what your power options are at each power class so it's pretty straightforward. This is $5 on drivethrurpg. So pretty cheap. Print on lulu.

Strange Visitor

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I hope no one will take great offense when I say that a large number of the suggestions here seem to completely ignore some of the OPs criteria.


Neo•Geo Fanboy
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I hope no one will take great offense when I say that a large number of the suggestions here seem to completely ignore some of the OPs criteria.
That is the modus operandi here :p

Shattercrack Shattercrack - I'm not going to sell you so much as possibly unsell you one two of my favorites.

Some are great at improv roleplay, but don’t want to reference anything outside of their character sheet. One player was playing a wizard in D&D but never knew what their spells were or how many they had left to cast for the day as all of that information wasn’t on their sheet and they weren’t sure where to find it in the book. They were ‘managed’ by the other players, but I would like it if they could manage their own character without assistance, even if the sheet has powers like “Superstrength – Roll XYZ”.
HERO can be good here. We generally open the book only at creation, and that's it. There's plenty of pre-fabbed powers out there from books, forums, etc.

Marvel Heroic isn't too bad in this regard either if I remember correctly.

Other players love crunch – gadgets, tactics, equipment and building interesting characters in a system. They might get bored if the game play is too simple. I would call these ‘simulationist’ players. They have not enjoyed playing FATE before.
HERO is good here also, but they'll need to spend some time on system mastery (no lie).

Marvel Heroic is more "choose what you want and in theory it'll all work out." Frankly, its easy, but that means I don't think there'll be much to sink their teeth into.

They also like getting XP regularly and buying upgrades/new papers or just leveling up in a class-based system.
HERO can be this way depending on how much XP you give out per game. Its point-buy which will be good for your simulationist players, but I think will be a problem for your improv players unless they have ideas and someone to help them implement them.

Marvel Heroic lets you change stuff up, improve things, etc., but I don't really think getting uber powerful is the point of the system. So you can change, but not necessarily become (significantly) more powerful. Its more to mimic how comic characters change over time.

As a GM, I want really streamlined NPCs rather than creating them from scratch. It would also be good if I could improvise NPCs on the spot. For example, if it’s a Level 4 or whatever monster, it will have +4 to hit and do 7d6 damage and I can randomly assign powers to like ‘laser blast’ or whatever. I also want something that supports creating interesting encounters. My favourite system to run for ages was D&D4:
  • everything was on the character sheet for players
  • there were interesting encounters you could build around the tactical map
  • you could improv monsters/death traps/challenges on the spot. It would be good if the system has a solid mathematical core so I could make a simple encounter-building spreadsheet to streamline adventure generation, or converting other supers adventures.
Oh dear your standards are pretty high. Which is GOOD, but... yeah... hard.
  • HERO can have everything on the character sheet for players.
  • Interesting encounters is GM dependent in HERO. It'll give you support, but little guidance.
  • Improvising... ermm.... I've done it, I know GMs who have, but I'm not sure how good it is compared to other options. Encounter building is way more touchy-feely than 4e because its points based and how powerful characters are in combat will vary wildly depending on how they're built. Class-level systems like 4e are much better at this thing in my opinion because they could manage these things far better. I would frankly say that if you're new to it that HERO will fall flat on its face in this instance. Badly.
Marvel Heroic?
  • Everything on one sheet ought be fine.
  • Interesting encounters is a bit easier in my opinion because players can do narrative type things like make their life harder for meta-currency, dictate who goes next, and other things. In short, you give up some control in return for outsourcing some of the work to players. I find it easier to improv. Tactical players won't necessarily be happy as the game doesn't really support minis and maps explicitly, so you'd have to shift tactics to being more a puzzle than war-game.
  • Speaking of which: your named villains might need writing up first, but there are mook/mob rules to help out. You can add aspects? traits? something for the scene you're in too. But, encounter design isn't really all that great either IMO. Its more touchy-feely than HERO in some ways (at least for how I think) since I can't really account for all the player hijinks.
I don’t mind if the system is ‘front loaded’ for character building, as long as it is streamlined and interesting in play, maybe with different status effects or combat manoeuvres.
HERO is front loaded, and you can design powers. Its complicated before play, but smooth in play. But, I think that's also dependent on powers like Drains and such being regulated to not introduce too much weirdness. I believe there's an optional rule for not using HERO's (in)famous Speed Chart, but to really get the most out of the system you need it and players to do their own accounting. Which sounds like your improv players might not care for.

Marvel Heroic will be fine for your narrative players, but your simulationist players might have the same problem I and some others did - character creation is really crappy for the way some people think. There's NO "creation minigame" as it were. For some its very liberating, but for me? I got too damn lost. I mean, intellectually I know how it works, its simple, aaaaand i still hated it/couldn't make anything.

I’ve tried M&M3 but didn’t like how I had to build each NPC separately, and it felt a bit flat during game player. Players felt their characters were static without much opportunity for advancement and some of the power builds got very fiddly. I also haven’t enjoyed playing Savage Worlds.
Games like HERO and M&M do well with pre-fabbed resources. It really helps. Can't speak to the rest of things.

Any suggestions? We can play almost anything, it just has to be the 'right' sort of thing.
Good luck on the search!


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Well, advancement isn't really a big thing in superhero comics, so you are kind of going against genre there. How many times has spider-man "levelled up" in the comics over the past two years? Not at all, really. He arguably hasn't changed significantly in over 20 years.

The trick to building villains in NPCs in M&M is not to build them at all. Just say, I need a PL 10 ice guy, and just say he has rank 10 in everything. Done. Have him spontaneously use whatever ice powers you think he needs whenever he needs them. Treat them as rank 10 in any situation where rank matters, done. Easy peasy. You can even shift attack and damage by a couple of ranks on the fly if you want to.

I also recommend having Power Profiles because it contains a catalog of prebuilt powers that you just need to supply ranks to. If the mechanics of an ice blast matters, flip to the section on ice powers and see how they built different ice blasts and pick one. You can literally does this on the fly, or in advance if you want to "build" an NPC. But definitely don't waste your time trying to construct villains as PC's do. That way lies madness.

So don't let that stop you from using M&M. However, if you want D&D style advancement, then M&M and most supers games aren't going to be the best fit for that in my opinion, but M&M can certainly do it. Its just that depending on the speed of advancement, you can quickly get into Justice League territory and need big threats to challenge the PC's. Some GM's are areally good at that, but I'm not one of them. So when I GM M&M, I do almost no advancement, but I talk to my players in advance that this game is going to be like a comic and give the spider-man example. They get it and its never been an issue (no pun intended). :)


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Also, the new Sentinel Comics RPG looks promsing, but it just kickstarted and won't be out for a whole year.


Great Sage Equal of Heaven
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Thanks for all the feedback and suggestions. I've suggested Champions/Hero, but one of the players said it would take too long to set up and run combats in our short weeknight timeslot which is about 2 and half hours. However, I'll look at the basic rules that someone linked to and see if I like the cut of its jib.

Not sure about MHR/Cortex Prime due to the lack of advancement, but I will check it out when it gets out of beta.

I don't like funny dice (bounced hard off the FFG Star Wars) so I won't be looking at Genesys, even though I've heard it's a very good system.

So far from the suggestions I like Supers Red (there's grid combat rules at the back, which the group will like), and I'm investigating some of the OSR suggestions.

I didn't enjoy running M&M, but maybe it also deserves another shot. The search continues!


AKA MalteseChangeling
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One nice thing about Supers! RED is that you only need to buy the one PDF or book to get the entire ruleset.


Baroque Space Orc Mage
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The only thing I can think of which might suit you that I know anything about is BASH (Basic Action Super Heroes). I don't know if it ticks all the boxes, but it's probably worth a look. It does have advancement, it's somewhat streamlined, but there is a bit of crunch too. I don't know how good it is for on-the-fly NPCs since I have only been on the player side of things.


Knight of Stumptown
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Frankly, I think M&M does what you want. Others have mentioned how to work up NPCs on the fly. I’ll also mention that you can grant advancement by starting at PL8 and then changing rank increases every 20-30 points instead of every 15. That gives characters more breadth.

One off the wall suggestion: the PS238 Hero book. (https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/58036/Ps238) You don’t have to use the setting, but it has a nice stripped down version of the rules. Alternatively, Champions Complete has all the supers stuff you need in on book. (Full Disclosure: I worked on said book).

However, I’ll state that M&M does 90% of what HERO does with 10% of the effort.

On, one more suggestion: the Wearing the Cape RPG. Now, it’s based on FATE, but it’s a bit crunchier than most Fate systems. And all the rolling is done by the PCs, so no worry to work up enemy stats. https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/210012/Wearing-the-Cape-The-Roleplaying-Game
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