Review #1 : Truth & Justice
Check it out at RPGNOW - just follow this link.
So this review is my first in a long, long time, and it's my attempt to catch up on being . . . well, terminally behind on reviews. Plus, it's a break from studying for finals. Unlike other reviews I've done, I've not had the opportunity to run this game. Only due to time restraints, however.
Oh - also - I've given up on the "numerical rating" system for reviews. Too much a pain in the butt, and not nearly as objective as I'd hoped. So now, it's all subjective reviews. Suckas.
(Also - if you order this - spend the extra $12.00 and get the print version. It's worth it. Or do what I did - buy the PDF, review it, and then go back and order the book. But get the book - you won't regret it.)
Truth & Justice is written by chadu — , and uses his PDQ system. The other games that use this system - Dead Inside and Monkey, Ninja, Pirate, Robot: The Roleplaying game - are also available, as is a free download of the Prose Descriptive Qualities (PDQ) System. The system is pretty simple - you need 2d6, your character, and your creative mind.
Caveat: It is, of course, very easy to manipulate and destroy all rules light systems - a fact that I hate. I don't want to memorize page after page of rules, I just want the rules to fit on one notecard, and go from there. Like all such systems, PDQ can be easily power gamed and min-maxed - though because it focuses more on story than stats, it probably won't be quite as 'rewarding.' This is NOT a slam on the system - I think the PDQ system is really well thought out and serves its purpose admirably. I think it is an excellent system for super-hero gaming.
I LOVE superhero games. All of them. Super rules oriented crunchy systems like MEGS and Champions, silly systems like Villains & Vigilantes, scary systems like Aberrant, and even overwhelming systems like Enforcers. I think at this point I have a copy of every super-hero system ever created, including a bunch you'd only find on www.rpgnow.com . So when it comes to judging super-hero games, I think I've got a bit of cred to my name. The genre is one of my all time favorites, and one that I have to run every couple of years just to keep myself sane. While I'm sure that my own Superhero RPGs are a bit darker and more psychotic than those run by chadu — , the fact that his game can freely incorporate both of our diverse styles is a big plus.
The Truth & Justice rulebook begins with a chapter that runs down the superhero genre. The genre itself is not as uniform as people believe - there are big gaps between the Batman TV series of the 1960s, your average Golden Age comic book, The Watchmen, and The Authority. Even the recent Identity Crisis series set a lot of the standard super-hero conventions on their ears. So there's a lot to cover - is your game cinematic or gritty? When it is set? Where is it set? What is heroism?
No matter what, if you are running a super-hero game, this chapter is extremely useful just for getting your brain going. I have read it about six or seven times since purchasing the book. The last part of it - comic book tropes - covers things as diverse as alternate realities, crossovers, monologues, sidekicks, and warfare. Again, from personal experience, I know that if I am stuck for a new idea for my current supers game, I can just page through here until something gained my attention.
Chapter two is a rundown of the PDQ system. If you are interested, download it from the link above. (It's legal, even.) Quick rundown - you assign your character some qualities, which range from a rating of Poor [-2] to Master [+6]. When the time comes, the GM assigns a difficulty, you roll 2d6 and add your rating value, and if you beat the difficulty, you've succeeded. Pretty simple.
There are some variations and such - one of my favorite sections is about being "badass" - in which a player's descriptive ability or the like lets the GM reward their dice rolls. (A related section - being "lameass" - doesn't talk about in game punishments. It's actually a fairly mature sidebar - not like it has a bunch of bad words or such, but rather it handles the concept of problem players with a certain degree of emotional advancement.)
Chapter Three covers character generation. This section includes two examples of character generation, one system for generating your qualities (what we would call attributes, skills, and advantages/merits), and powers. It also discusses origin, code name, motivation, and how each of these (particularly the latter) has an effect on the game. (Motivation actually has a rules effect.)
This is where the game also covers "Hero Points." This is where Motivation helps - following your motivation gives you Hero Points. So does taking heroic actions, being screwed by GM decree, experiencing the effects of your limitation or vulnerabilities, and doing anything that adds to the spirit of the game.
Hero Points have a lot of uses - some examples include helping you do power stunts, making your damage stronger in combat, 'recovering' from injury, and the like. (There is a related trait - MAX - which tracks your upper limit on hero poitns, but also is used like XP in the game.)
After this, there are sample super-abilities. It's noted that this list is not exhaustive. This is followed by notes on stunting powers (which I think are, again, really well done rules.)
Chapter four handles conflict. I won't go much into details here, except to say the damage system is interesting. Your Qualities/Powers take "downshifts," meaning an Average rated quality might go down to Poor. These lead to story hooks - explanations of why that particular downshift occured, and how it affects you. (One example, in the book, involves a person whose "accountant" quality gets downshifted during a fight, and how this is due to a black eye that makes it harder for him to do his job.) Combat is not a matter of "Damn - I only have three hit points left" or "One more bruising attack and I'm out." Instead, now it can be "Crap, he twisted my wrist. Now my ability to drive will be diminished." By that, I mean that it has actual real world effects on the characters - and as someone who tries to minimize combat in their games (even my super-hero games) I like the fact that there may be serious concerns about getting into combat.
Chapter six is about Game-mastering, but is focused more directly on how to GM this particular game. Mostly. This is another chapter that I found useful beyond just Truth & Justice, though - it has applications to almost any super-hero game that allows even the most minute amount of flexibility in actual play. It includes hints on setting design, how to help player's with stunts, designing villains, and designing 'props' - items in the game world that may be important. (Ultimate Nullifier, anyone?) It ends with a bunch of sample characters.
The next three chapters are sample settings. I won't detail them, but I will say that if none of these get your creative juices going, maybe GMing super-hero games isn't for you. I will say that Chapter Nine: Fanfare for the Amplified Man is my favorite of the three, though it does remind me a lot of the series "The 4400." Which might be why I like it so much.
Speaking of "The 4400," Chapter 10 is the list for the bibliography and other inspirations, and that TV series is the first one listed. It includes movies, television, books, comic books, and other games. It's fairly good - and I feel special because I've read/watched/experienced 41 of the 55 such influences. :-) (I'm such a geek.)
At the end, you have the random charts for inspiration, and then a breakdown of the important tables for the game. And then some stuff for character generation.
I recommend this book. It's really well done, and totally worth what it costs.