Sunday, March 9, 2014

March Madness Non-D&D Blog Challenge: Day Nine

What superhero RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?

Based on purely anecdotal evidence, superhero RPGs strike me as being the sort of thing that you either play a lot or almost never. I suspect this maps closely to one's enthusiasm for superhero comics in general, although I'm sure there are plenty of people who enjoy that particular genre of comics and never play the RPGs (or even vice-versa!).

This topic actually came up during the most recent episode of my podcast, and as I stated during that discussion, I've never been a four-color superhero comic person, really. I love the medium of the comic book/graphic novel as a storytelling platform, am fascinated by the role of comics in American popular culture and history, and enjoy the occasional superhero blockbuster movie. But the whole costumed hero thing as a general concept? Whether Golden/Silver Age do-gooders or post-modern tales of gray morality, there's just not a lot of pull there for me.

So I've never really sought out superhero RPG systems. I'm aware of them, sure. And if someone in my group offered to run Marvel Superheroes or Icons, I would happily give it a shot. But so far, I believe my only experience with superhero gaming goes back to the days of my adolescent Palladium fandom. Clearly, looking back, we used Palladium's back catalog as a way to test out various genres, since they had at least one game out for all the big ones. Heroes Unlimited was one such genre test.

In the Palladium universe, the layered flip never went out of style.
My friend Alex had acquired the core book after receiving some store credit at our local not-so-friendly game store (I believe they'd refused to issue him a refund after he'd bought what turned out to be a book for a system we didn't even play - hey, we were 14 years old). Looking for something to spend the credit on, he selected HU.

I believe Alex was more of a superhero comics fan that I was at the time. Certainly, at around the same time he was really getting into the whole Image Comics thing and was collecting issues of Spawn and what-not. So he was a good pick to run the game. I recall that I went with as much random chargen as I could and ended up with some sort of alien hero, the precise details of which are largely lost to me now. I recall that Alex set the intro scenario in our hometown, which was a nice touch. I've never really attempted that sort of set-up since, but it's a great way to promote buy-in and immersion if you're running a modern day sort of campaign, thinking back.

At any rate, we played one session, had a decent time, and never really did anything else with the game. Maybe about 10 years later, I ran a goofy one-shot where the PCs were all luchadors (I think they selected the "Physical Training" OCC?) and they dismantled some rampaging giant robots.

Heroes Unlimited is actually a great example of the sort of goofy appeal that typifies a lot of Palladium games. There's nothing particularly elegant about it, and in fact it really pales next to the deep and rich "you can build any sort of character you want" superhero games that, since Champions, have been largely the standard design direction for the genre. But I dig the somewhat low- to medium-powered granularity of the system, the random chargen elements, the grab-bag of different hero types all thrown together with no regard for balance or internal consistency. Kevin Siembieda (who, I believe, had wanted to get into comic book illustration before getting sidetracked by RPGs) infused the game with his trademark enthusiasm, no doubt about it.

Out of all the clunky old Palladium games out there, Heroes Unlimited is one of the few that I would unreservedly play again if someone in my group offered. Running it, on the other hand...
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