History of Superhero RPGs (Part Four 2002-2004)
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THE SUPERHERO’S JOURNEY
In the last post I described how I see superhero stories divided: Sci-Fi, Pulp, and Mythic. I suspect that last category, Mythic, includes more actual gaming than the other two combined. Yet it may be what gives some gamers as bad taste when they think of supers games. Mythic games can be powerful- at the very least they embrace the idea of powers. They eschew realism in favor of spectacle and cool. That has several consequences, including the hand-waving of repercussions. A battle between titans in an urban metropolis has serious and specific consequences in a Sci-Fi supers game. The decay of infrastructure, shifts in the economy, poisonous fallout. In a Pulp game it focuses on drama: the revelation of the destruction, loss of friends, reactions of horror from the general populace. In a Mythic game someone cleans up afterwards- perhaps with a small comment about rebuilding. Or the horrific destruction gets downplayed (ala Man of Steel). More rarely Mythic stories embrace that catastrophe as a message and a metaphor (ala Kid Miracleman’s assault on London or the Batman NML arc).

That leads to the next part of Mythic: symbolism. Mythic stories rely on archetypes. Characters stand for ideas and beliefs. Heroes might embrace those for a purpose, but those eventually come to define them. Some writers make a more explicit connection to mythology. Consider Grant Morrison’s JLA run or Seven Soldiers mini-series; Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come; and Alan Moore’s Promethea. All of these make heroes into figures in stories that echo Beowulf, Gilgamesh, and Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Kirby and Starlin represent the greatest of these Mythic storytellers- from Thor to the New Gods to Warlock and so on. They brought the cosmic.

That leads to worlds where magic, psychic powers, mutations, alien hybrids, and intelligent robots all exist side by side. And they exist without any attempt to rationalize and explain away how that’s actually happening. The Asgardians aren’t super-aliens- they’re gods. All powers don’t actually derive from a super-virus or a multi-dimensional rift in the Bleed. They’re crazy, mixed up and wild. Anything goes and that’s a double-edged sword. Creators, GMs, and players have all the room they want. But that can feel unreal, unmoored from any connection to the human condition. It can result in power fantasy campaigns and stories without and depth.

TIMELINE
Events: Infinity Abyss, Joker: Last Laugh, Identity Crisis, and Avengers Disassembled.
Television: Power Rangers Wild Force, Teamo Supremo, ¡Mucha Lucha!, Ultraman Tiga, Ultimate Muscle, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers: Ninja Storm, Venture Brothers, Spider Man New Animated Series, Teen Titans, Xiaolin Showdown, Jake 2.0, Astro Boy, Danny Phantom, The Batman, Power Rangers SPD, and Ben 10.
Films: Blade II, Spider Man, Daredevil, X-2: X-Men United, Hulk, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Spider Man II, The Incredibles, Hellboy, The Punisher, Catwoman, Blade: Trinity, Batman Begin

TIMELINE: VIDEO GAMES
This period sees an explosion of superhero video games. On the PC we get Freedom Force (2002) and the weak tie-in The Incredibles: When Danger Calls. More importantly we get the first superhero MMO, City of Heroes. The consoles end up with many more games- for good or ill. From DC Batman: Dark Tomorrow, Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu, Superman: Shadow of Apokolips, Superman: The Man Of Steel, Justice League: Injustice for All, and Justice League: Chronicles among others. Marvel gives the movie tie-ins Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004), and The Hulk. We also see the well-regarded X-Men Legends, X2: Wolverine's Revenge, X-Men: Next Dimension, and The Invincible Iron Man. Outside of the big two we see a handful of new titles, with the original property Viewtiful Joe and Viewtiful Joe 2 topping the list. Licensed games The Incredibles and Power Rangers: Dino Thunder also show up.

TIMELINE: BOARD GAMES
The board game side also has an 800 pound gorilla- 2002's HeroClix. Beyond that we saw card games like Vs System, UNO: Spider-Man & UNO: Spider-Man 2, Justice League MegaClash, and Strange Synergy and Superman. In more standard board games we got Marvel games like Heroes Incorporated, Spider-Man, Spider-Man vs The Green Goblin, Hulk Busts Loose, Marvel Trivia Game, Spider-Man Web Launch Game, The Incredible Hulk 3-D Rampage Board Game, and Spider-Man Vs. Doc Ock. DC gave us Justice League Hexors Game and Batman: Gotham City Mystery. Which company had more films come out during this time?

These lists cover a smaller slice of time than my past rpg lists. I hope this makes them easier to read. I include mostly core books, but also significant setting or sourcebooks. I list revised editions which significantly changed a line. Generally I only include published material- print or electronic. I leave out freebie or self-published games. I'm sure I've left something off without adequate reason; feel free to add a comment about a line I missed (if published from 2002-2004). I've arranged these in by year and then alphabetically within that year.

History of Superhero RPGs (Part One 1978-1985)
History of Superhero RPGs (Part Two: 1986-1996)
History of Superhero RPGs (Part Three 1997-2001)
History of Superhero RPGs (Part Four 2002-2004)
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1. RPG Item: Champions 5th Edition [Average Rating:7.59 Overall Rank:4013]
RPG Item: Champions 5th Edition
Lowell Francis
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(2002) Hero System 5 broke me. Gaming's new emphasis on shifts and edition revisions irritated me. I'd gone along with Rolemaster's changes, but reworkings and new key system supplements finally wore me out. Over the next couple of years I dropped three systems which had been played for many years in our groups: Rolemaster, GURPS, and Champions. Fatigue and expense killed those off. Instead for the moment I stuck with Hero 4th Edition- it worked fine. Or so I thought. I tried teaching it to some new players. They disliked it and my own desire for lighter rules didn't help matters.

That being said Hero 5e is a beast- a clean up and consolidation of the rules. You can see more about that in this RPG Geek "Share a Game Thread" and in even more detail at Ross Watson's post on the changes. Hero 5 was a huge tome and the revised version of that only increased its bullet-stopping size. More importantly the fifth edition generated an incredibly solid set of sub-lines (Champions, Dark Champions, Fantasy Hero, Star Hero). Each of those in turn had amazing support and great products. The product line for Champions 5 is probably the best single line of superhero supplements out there. Each covers their topics in depth, offers many new NPCs, and has a complementary Hero Designer electronic edition. The line includes my single favorite supers supplement- Villainy Amok. If you're looking inspirational products for a superhero game, start by checking out Champions 5.

Point buy. d6 Resolution.

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2. RPG Item: Deeds Not Words [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
RPG Item: Deeds Not Words
Lowell Francis
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(2002) An set of rules for adapting d20 to superhero games. Offers a point-buy system for choosing powers. The game itself sticks fairly close to the original d20 material, with classes to define characters. Across the board it adds elements to emulate the genre, but tries to keep the system close to original D&D 3.0 version. In 2003 Crytosnark released an enlarged and revised 1.1 version of the rules. That versions 374 trade sized pages, so not a small product. Deeds Not Words contains a number of interesting options. Superpowers take up about 100 pages. That's complemented by sections on Power Armor, Psionics, Mystic Skills, Super-Science, and even Super-Pets. If you like original d20, this may be the super-game for you. The layout and art's serviceable. Cryptosnark published two supplements for it: Laying the Smack Down!- with new combat options- and Bold Costumes, Black Hearts- a villain sourcebook.

Level and class based. Various dice.

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3. RPG Item: Four Color to Fantasy [Average Rating:8.00 Unranked]
RPG Item: Four Color to Fantasy
Lowell Francis
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(2002) Subtitled "Superhero Toolkit." Four Color to Fantasy offers a superhero skin for the d20 mechanics. While the cover makes it look amateurish, the interior layout and design's quite good. The designers organize the material clearly. It assumes players bring significant d20 knowledge and lays out the key additions to that early on. Rather than distinct classes for archetypes, FCtF has one class which offers powers, The Hero. Four prestige classes allow some additional focus, but the rules give freedom to the players. To make things easier the rules also offer some templates of common power configurations. Had EN Publishing done more with the line we probably would have seen books with more templates. The rules include both powers and super-feats, but there's no hard rule about what falls into one versus the other. Those still working with d20 3.0 may find some useful ideas here. Four Color to Fantasy includes a supers setting called dark decade. It presents a 1980's New York City with a supernatural subculture (ala World of Darkness). The superhero PCs battle against those monsters. It isn't a bad idea and would be worth seeing developed and expanded as a sourcebook. Here there's not nearly enough room to develop the concepts. In 2003 EN Publishing released a revised version. Oddly though there's a link for it that RPGNow no longer has that product listed- just the earlier version.

Level based. Point buy. Various dice.
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4. RPG Item: Hellboy Sourcebook and Roleplaying Game [Average Rating:6.88 Overall Rank:1863]
RPG Item: Hellboy Sourcebook and Roleplaying Game
Lowell Francis
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(2002) A really lovely little game and sourcebook I regret not picking up when it came out. I've knocked Steve Jackson Games in the past for odd licensing choices (GURPS Planet Krishna). Hellboy's a dynamite choice. It combines action, horror, and strange powers well. It also came out a couple of years before the first film, so it had that combined with a successful comic book line. Hellboy's both a sourcebook and an rpg. However the book entangles the rules with the sourcebook material more than other similar products. That works against it more than a little. Readers looking for extensive background on the series may be put off by the stats and numbers everywhere. They have to read around the game.

GURPS Lite powers the rules. I mentioned before my dislike of GURPS approach to Supers. I know some gamers generated great campaigns with it, but I disliked its clunkiness. Hellboy covers a much narrower set of powers and abilities. It still has really interesting options, including ritual paths and psychic powers. GURPS supplements and sub-systems work when they operates in a narrower and better defined range. Hellboy doesn't have to cover everything. I'm unsure how well it did for SJG. I arrived just before they transitioned to GURPS 4e which I expect drew attention away from it. The rules can still be found online for a decent price.

Point-based. d6 resolution.
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5. RPG Item: The Judge Dredd Roleplaying Game [Average Rating:6.75 Overall Rank:3043]
RPG Item: The Judge Dredd Roleplaying Game
Lowell Francis
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(2002) The second of the three (so far) Judge Dredd rpgs. Mongoose's first whack at the setting uses d20. As opposed to some adaptations, a copy of the Players Handbook remains necessary to play. Players choose between Street Judges, Psi-Judges, and Citizens for class. The last choice seems to be on offer if a group wants to play a criminal game set in Mega-City One. If a pitched me on a Dredd game where we didn't play judges, but instead the people who get killed by Judges I'm pretty sure I'd less-than-politely decline. As you can imagine there's a plethora of new feats, crunchy combat options, and lots of equipment from robots to guns. The line did well enough for Mongoose that they published many supplements, the majority in the Rookie's Guide series. They published the last books in the series in 2004; several years later they came back with a version based on Traveller.
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6. RPG Item: Modern Knights [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
RPG Item: Modern Knights
Lowell Francis
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(2002) I've hit game fatigue. It happens when I work on these history lists. Many games offer unique and distinctive takes on the genre. They have a pitch and a striking concept. They lead with that. It might not always be great, but I can grok the idea from the back cover, tagline, and/or publisher blurb. I'm worn down by games that won't or can't distinguish themselves. Supers games in particular suffer from this. Both the Horror and Steampunk/Victoriana lists had games that fell back on genre conventions and repeated tropes. Superhero games seem to have a greater mechanical focus. Frankly super-powers present a huge challenge to designers: balance, cost, variety, sub-systems. So more supers games seem to be about bringing new mechanics to the table. Their pitch lines boil down to buzzwords like cinematic, simple, rich. But they don't bring much else to the table.

When I first saw Modern Knights I assumed it offered some kind of fantasy/supers hybrid. The cover has a superhero fighting a dragon on it. But the publisher blurb doesn't seem to support that. Instead it offers another generic superworld- with "heroic ages" and "unique mechanics." I only found a couple of online reviews- most describing it as middle of the road. The company seems to have only released a single sample character for the game. It does have a G+ Page, last updated 4/12 as of this writing.

Point-based. d10 Resolution.
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7. RPG Item: Mutants & Masterminds [Average Rating:7.19 Overall Rank:646]
RPG Item: Mutants & Masterminds
Lowell Francis
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(2002) I'm better...I think about being a gaming snob. Or maybe I'm just fooling myself. I didn't buying into d20 and so I skipped on M&M. Then someone calmly and politely told me why I should pick it up. I was running demos for the City of Heroes rpg at Origins. The Sunday morning session ended up with only two players. One took off and I spoke with the other about his experiences at the con and what he liked in superhero games. he talked about how much he enjoyed Mutants & Masterminds, how it echoed elements from other supers rpgs, and what new things it brought to the table. He didn't dismiss other systems. Instead he focused of what this game did that he liked: customizable powers without complexity, solid balance, fast combat, and a novel damage system that felt right for the genre. I wish I'd gotten that guy's name. He pointed me towards a game which I've loved running. More than that he showed me how to advocate for a game- speak to strengths, don't fear a making connections to other systems, cite distinctions, and don't attack other games.

I tested M&M first with a group of novices. None of the players knew d20 or really followed comics. They enjoyed it. The combats sped by and yet everyone contributed to the results. I ran a second campaign with a group of Champions-loving veterans. They enjoyed the game and liked the system, though they longed for the expertise they had with Hero System. They'd play it if I ran it. And I would. The mechanics made sense to me and within a few sessions I could improvise encounters and introduce new elements without stopping to check everything. The smart and clean organization of the book made it easy when I did have to stop and check. In short, M&M converted me quickly- and changed my tune on d20 adaptations. I bought all of the first party supplements for the game and many Superlink products including LPJ's various pdf books of archetypes and new powers. The changeover to second edition bothered me since I'd been happy with the original. Eventually I tried it out...but that comes later in this story.

Point buy. d20 Resolution.
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Genre: Action / Adventure (Pulp)
Lowell Francis
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I've consolidated Pulp games into a single entry. Each offer a dash of masked vigilante action in with their Pulpy goodness.

*Danger Quest (2002) My friend Art gave me this. The subtitle doesn't do justice to how bonkers this is: "Pulp Adventures in the 23rd Century." Buck Rogers, right? Nope, a future world which contains all of the classic pulp tropes done as a simulation: G-Men, Zeppelins, Mad Scientists. Double mumbo-jumbo.
*Pulp Zombies (2003) The Pulp supplement for All Flesh Must Be Eaten. The game adds a few power elements- like gadgets, mentalism, danger sense. The deadworld "Zombies, Inc" centers on masked adventurers.
*Dime Heroes (2003) The 1PG system's take on pulp- focused on radio serial heroes like The Shadow.
*Pulp Adventure (First Edition) (2003) A very inide and homebrew take on pulp adventures. The author has put out a couple of supplements and at least two significant revisions. He successfully kickstarted a Pulp Adventure Companion in 2013.


(Gamemaster's Guide to Pulp Adventure) 2004
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9. RPG Item: Silver Age Sentinels: The Superhero Role-Playing Game [Average Rating:6.22 Overall Rank:5389]
RPG Item: Silver Age Sentinels: The Superhero Role-Playing Game
Lowell Francis
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(2002) The third big supers launch of 2002. Our group ended up with copies when my late friend Barry Winston did art for the book. At the time SAS did grab me. In fact I had little memory of it, beyond some interesting supplements and a connection to BESM. Looking at it again, I'm amazed at the production values here. Guardians of Order's full-color version has great layout, clean art, and a ton of material. While the world background on offer is pretty conventional and unsurprising, the presentation's awesome. Everything looks good. So what turned me off?

At the time I still liked Champions- despite the move to 5th edition. But I tried to introduce the system to some new players with little success. The rules depth and necessary expertise turned some of them off. My own move toward rules-light games didn't help. Silver Age Sentinels struck me as trying to do the same thing as Champions. If I wanted that level of granularity and asymmetrical powers, why not stick with Champions? Without an advocate or a teacher in our group, SAS just withered. That's too bad as I've heard stories for a number of folks who liked the game. Some of the supplements, especially Criminal Intent, have more interesting concepts than the core book. On the other hand, GOO crashed and burned later with their problematic business dealings and screwing over of freelancers.

I did notice one detail when I re-examined the core book. SAS opens by answering the why this game will succeed while others have failed. The book offers two reasons. The first is that previous superhero games have had mechanics too closely tied to the world setting. I've reread this a couple of times and it still doesn't make much sense to me. A few games of the time do this- Underground, Aberrant, Cybergeneration. But in each case that's because they have a strong and specific setting rather than offering a general supers game. But the big two supers competitors- the elephants in the room- Champions and V&V don't. More supers games aim for generic over specific. SAS offers a second reason: it is heroic where others aren't. I think that's a fairer reading. SAS comes out after a series of games which embrace darker themes: Champions: New Millennium, Brave New World, Dark Champions. But by and large I'd say more superhero games up to this point emulate a Silver Age morality and mentality by default.

I don't include it on the list, but in 2003 GOO released a d20 version: Silver Age Sentinels: The Ultimate d20 Superhero Role-Playing Game.

Point-based. d6 Resolution.
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10. RPG Item: Vigilance: Absolute Power [Average Rating:4.00 Unranked]
RPG Item: Vigilance: Absolute Power
Lowell Francis
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(2002) Like Deeds, Not Words Vigilance offers a d20 supers game which sticks closely to the source. Supersheroes have origins which function as races and classes which define some base abilities and feats (Detective, Gangster, Brick, Projector). It brings new feats and skills to the table, but the big addition are the powers rules. These function like feats for the most part, a common approach for extras in various flavors of d20. The book includes its own world history and background but focuses on the new rules and options.

In 2003 Designer Charles Rice created Blood and Vigilance a superhero set which used d20 Modern as the basis rather than the standard d20 SRD. Both handle supers with origins and classes. Unlike the earlier version, B&V aims to handle a narrower range of superheroes. In this case those with innate powers like mutants, cybernetically enhanced, or accidents of science. About a third of the 72-page books given over to powers, a third to classes, and a third to gamemastering. Rice apparently only published one specific addition to the line: Blood & Vigilance: Mystic Arts. That's a small 16-page booklet. I suspect the other "Blood &..." books from RPGObjects could also be used.

Class and level based. Various dice.
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11. RPG Item: Cartoon Action Hour [Average Rating:6.40 Overall Rank:6353]
RPG Item: Cartoon Action Hour
Lowell Francis
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(2003) A corner case supers rpg. I grew up loving old Spider Man cartoons, the Super Friends, and the 1960's Marvel Cartoons. In my mind they have the same kinds of powers at Atom Ant, Hong-Kong Phooey, or the Herculoids. Caroon Action Hour aims to emulate the shows of the 1980's including Turbo Teen, Thundercats, Silverhawks, MASK, and the Inhumanoids all of which could be read as superhero stories in their own ways. The system takes an open-ended approach to special abilities and powers. A simple four-step process allows players to define anything. It reminds me quite a bit of OVA: The Anime Role-Playing Game but even easier to use. CAH feels complete with advice for handling a wide variety of situations. It is rules light but not rules thin. Nearly half the original books given over to series pitches and campaign ideas. CAH did well enough to spawn two more editions: Cartoon Action Hour: Season Two and this year's Cartoon Action Hour: Season 3. It also has sourcebooks covering anime (Going Japanese), "not" Transformers (Metal Wars), and space (Star Warriors).

Point buy. d12 resolution.
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12. RPG Item: Hero Force: Super Adventure! [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
RPG Item: Hero Force: Super Adventure!
Lowell Francis
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(2003) Deep7's 1PG system offers a series of extremely rules-light games across many genres. Their foray into supers comes in at a whopping 13 pages. The cover has a retro Silver Age vibe to it. Unlike many games in this series, the company published an expansion Hero Force: Giant Size Super Special which presents almost thirty pages of additional material.

Random and point-buy. 1d6 resolution.
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13. RPG Item: The Marvel Universe Roleplaying Game [Average Rating:5.99 Overall Rank:5247]
RPG Item: The Marvel Universe Roleplaying Game
Lowell Francis
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2003 I’ve circled back to writing up MURG several times now. It is a strange beast. On the one hand, I admire the way it breaks the mold and aims for another play style. On the other, in doing so it embraces some things I hate at the table. The Marvel Universe Roleplaying Game comes from Marvel Entertainment itself, not from a gaming company. I believe that’s a first for a licensed product. Of the three designers, only one has any rpg credits before or since. Daniel Seth Gelber’s listed as a contributor to a half-dozen Paranoia products from 1984 to 2009. MURG feels like a game designed by people with limited rpg experience or who deliberately avoided looking at other games. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. That can generate new forms and ideas. But it can also mean throwing away useful ideas and approaches.

The Marvel Universe Roleplaying Game goes diceless. It isn’t the first supers game to do that; both previous Marvel games had some diceless elements. But MURG shifts the central game mechanic from randomization to resource management. Players track and control damage, effort, and abilities through tokens. They move these tokens around on their character sheet. Players have full control and information. They make decisions about costs and future actions. It that regard MURG feels like a board game. I’m intrigued by the concept, but as a rule I dislike that kind of tracking. Players have to keep their sheet on the table in front of them and move things around on it. That eats up table space and adds a whole layer of fiddly-ness. Games like Fireborn and Weapons of the Gods required players do this but with dice. I’m not a fan of that.

Beyond that MURG also suffers from a dense rulebook. The rules themselves aren’t difficult but the organization and layout makes things harder than they have to be. Jake Baker’s smart review on RPGNet nails down one of the other problems. The designers want a simple system yet have the most insane modifier list I’ve seen. The Difficult/Resistance chart presents an impenetrable mess. Despite this the game did well as an rpg and delivered three supplements. But rpg sales don’t come close to matching comic sales and that pushed Marvel to shut down the line within a year.

Point buy. No randomizer.
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14. RPG Item: Squadron UK - Basic! [Average Rating:5.50 Unranked]
RPG Item: Squadron UK - Basic!
Lowell Francis
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(2003) Simon Burley co-designed Golden Heroes in the 1980's. GW had originally intended it as the Marvel Supers game, but ended up losing the license to TSR. They only published the core rules and a couple of decent supplements before it vanished from the shelves. In 2003 Burley relaunched the game as Squadron UK. While not exactly Golden Heroes, it shares many elements. For several years he added several supplements to the line: Balance of Power, Hunters, Terror Firma, and more. However after ignoring Burley's inquiries about the IP and rights reversion for some time GW finally got back to him. They asked him to cease and desist. The rights had not reverted and his product remained too close to the original. Burley revised and re-released Squadron UK at the end of 2012.

Random Generation. Various Dice.
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15. RPG Item: Supermegatopia [Average Rating:1.00 Unranked]
RPG Item: Supermegatopia
Lowell Francis
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(2003) When I first saw this, I simply assumed Team Frog had developed an anthropomorphic supers setting (ala Furry Pirates). But Supermegatopia is a complex and long running adult comic and webcomic. TV Tropes offers a decent overview of it here. The book's rather small for a setting with a rich history, coming in at only 51 pages. It uses the "Paradigm System" which powered the earlier game UNSanctioned (on my previous list). Most of the reviews and comments express disappointment at the wasted potential.

Point buy. d10/d20 resolution.
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16. RPG Item: The Algernon Files [Average Rating:7.77 Unranked]
RPG Item: The Algernon Files
Lowell Francis
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(2004) You'll see on this list a many interesting secondary produced- produced by new companies or reskins of existing systems. The Algernon Files came out originally for M&M 1e. Like the best fantasy bestiaries, it offers a collection of enemies with a linked theme. In this case the solid and interesting world the designers have created. That doesn't always work. I've read other supervillain collections attempting to build a new universe which feel half-baked. This one doesn't. Blackwyrn went on to other a version of this for HERO 5 and a revised 2.0 version for HERO and for M&M 2e. They also published a WW2-centered sourcebook in the same universe, The Fires of War: The Algernon Files Volume 2, which is a must-have for anyone doing Golden Age games.
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17. RPG Item: The Authority Role-Playing Game and Sourcebook [Average Rating:6.94 Overall Rank:3975]
RPG Item: The Authority Role-Playing Game and Sourcebook
Lowell Francis
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(2004) This is a crazy game for several reasons. if you're familiar with The Authority, you can see why. If not...well, that's a little hard to explain. In the late 1990's Warren Ellis spun off this series from his work on Stormwatch. He's helped to refocus a good deal of the Wildstorm line of comics. The Authority offered a "wide-screen" approach to massively powerful superbeings changing the world. It was a hit. But then things started to shift, with a change of writers and 9/11 pushing DC to limit and censor the comic and its over the top destruction and violence. The post-Ellis books get dark and strange- and kind of awful in places. The Authority rpg only covers up to through the Ellis run, I can't even imagine how they'd deal with the later material which significant rape and sexual abuse.

The Authority was popular, but that had diminished by the time this book hit the market. IIRC it had been intended to be the first of a series of games covering the Wildstorm Universe which included Ellis' other big success Planetary, WildCATS, Gen 13, and Wetworks. Guardians of Order ceased operations under a cloud in early 2006- so nothing came of the other games.

The book itself is smartly done- a full color hardback with strong layout. As with many GOO products it offers a complete game and a sourcebook for the material (up through Ellis' issues and the awful Jenny Sparks: The Secret History of the Authority mini series). The system itself is a modified and higher powered version of the Tri-Stat rules seen in other products, especially Silver Age Sentinels. There's a nice discussion of the differences in the text- something I appreciate in games. Players can build a character or use random generation to assemble one on the fly. I've seen copie sof this fairly cheap so if you like seeing interesting supers rpgs, dig The Authority, or enjoy the Tri-Stat system, you should pick it up.

Point buy. Various dice.
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18. RPG Item: Necessary Evil [Average Rating:7.60 Overall Rank:6237]
RPG Item: Necessary Evil
Lowell Francis
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(2004) Early Savage Worlds took a radical approach with their campaign and setting building. The blended world sourcebook and campaigns together to craft extended "Plot Point campaigns." Like classic campaign modules or series (The Enemy Within, Horror on the Orient Express) they offer a mostly linear through spine of the story. But they break these up into many incidents, open scenes, and optional bits. It still gives a beginning, middle, and end, but gives GMs more options with more minimal presentation. Necessary Evil is the first "supers" book for the Savage Worlds line. I read through it when it came out but didn't really get how it worked. All I could see at the time was that it wasn't the kind of sourcebook I knew.

The premise is a solid one. The PCs are supervillains and the last line of resistance against an alien invasion. The invaders have killed nearly all the superheroes. That's a neat twist- and one which gives players a different set of motivations and conflicts. I've always found bad guy games tough- even when the PCs have a shared goal or motivation. I've seen them blow up every time with interparty conflict and recrimination. Necessary Evil doesn't offer much advice on that point, a major weakness. At the time it was the only source of superhero rules for Savage Worlds, but new products cover that for the game. Pinnacle published a version of this for Explorers Edition as well as the useful Necessary Evil Figure Flats.

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19. RPG Item: Nocturnals: A Midnight Companion [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:5639]
RPG Item: Nocturnals: A Midnight Companion
Lowell Francis
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(2004) In the past I've knocked companies for licensing niche or obscure series(GURPS Humanx springs to mind). I had no idea who the Nocturnals were before this came out. Only a couple of people in our area had heard or even read the series. And here they got a massive, full-color hardback sourcebook. What was the deal? The deal is that the Nocturnals are awesome- a creative mix of noir, monster hunting, supernatural conspiracy, soap opera, and weird fantasy. I love Daniel Brereton's art and reading through this book made me fall in love with the setting and characters. Like the best core licensed products, this is as much a fanbook for the series as it is a game product. The art is lavish, there's an original story, and tons of background material and secrets.

Game utility's another question. It was written for Mutants & Masterminds 1e. Later M&M editions took radically different approaches to some of the core mechanics. The additional rules presented here feel more like a d20 throwback (the later M&M supplement Noir has the same problem). It goes for crunchier, street level options fitting the setting. That would require some serious retooling for other games and editions. That aside the Nocturnals offers a excellent resource for series fans and supers gamers who enjoy things like Hellboy, Buffy, or Mr. Monster. Worth picking up if you can find a copy. That used to be easy, but they're a little rarer now.
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20. RPG Item: Omlevex [Average Rating:7.43 Overall Rank:5106]
RPG Item: Omlevex
Lowell Francis
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(2004) Omlevex is the greatest Silver-Age comic series never written. This book presents the characters and stories of that line- featuring Drake Einstein, The American Gargoyle, Freedom's Trio and others. It writing manages to capture the feel of the era without being completely derivative. You can see some of the inspirations, but they live on their own. The book's a super-fun read, but perhaps most useful for GMs running a lighter or more retro game. The coherence of the material means that it could be an awesome alternate dimension to play with. Omlevex came with stats for HERO 5, Silver Age Sentinels, and M&M 1e. Z-Man gave up on rpgs and this ended up in bargain bins for years. There were rumors that Omlevex would reappear as a new stand-alone supers rpg, but nothing has come of that.
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21. RPG Item: Power Grrrl [Average Rating:6.00 Unranked]
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(2004) Like Omlevex, Power Grrrl offers a setting sourcebook for an imaginary line of comic books (not to be confused with the webcomic Grrl Power). The only sourcebook for the POW! generic system it presents a very, very 1980's style comic book world. The always excellent Shanya Almafeta has a solid review of Power Grrrl posted on RPG.Net. I think that says just about everything you need to know.

Point buy. d6 Pool Resolution.
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22. RPG Item: The Red Star Campaign Setting [Average Rating:7.14 Overall Rank:4181]
RPG Item: The Red Star Campaign Setting
Lowell Francis
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(2004) This is another odd one from Green Ronin. Like The Nocturnals, I'd never heard of the Red Star comic series. Strangely this product ins't a supplement for Mutants & masterminds, but instead a d20 Modern supplement. Green Ronin once again offers a beautiful product; the hardcover's well-laid out and presented. Red Star offers a science fantasy spin on the Soviet Union. It seems almost more anime- a combination of shamanitic magic, high-tech suits & armor, and the characters as singular heroes. It might be considered a corner case as a superhero product, but the character design and story arc of the original material seem closer to that than anything else. the uniqueness of the setting works for and against it. If you're looking for a mythotechnic Soviet setting or love the original comics, then this is for you. Otherwise it is so tied into that material GMs will have a hard time digging out useful bits.
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