So, there’s the chance of a second game group and a day of play in the offing for me. After some Wild_Talents-232x300blathering at each other, we’ve seem to come to the conclusion a superhero campaign might be the best received. The GM is looking to do a gritty superhero game. The idea seems to be to shoot for a The Dark Knight Returns sort of flavor.

The system he’s suggesting for the action is Wild Talents — a superhero game by Arc Dream Publishing from back around 2006. It was a follow-on game/setting to Godlike, a “gritty superhero game set in WWII” that prided itself on losing the spandex. Wild Talents had some good talent on it. Wild Talents is being pitched on Arc Dream’s page as leaving the characters more vulnerable physically and motivationally. “All too superhuman” is the catch phrase, which implies a game where the character’s are “appropriately” angsty and “realistic.”

I’m reviewing the ebook, as I don’t have a physical copy. The layout and look is good, but the writing is a bit dry. As to the system, it uses the “One Roll Engine” which is, I suspect, an attempt to speed play and make it easier. It might play that way (haven’t actually played yet…), but it reads as paradoxically complex for a single roll mechanic.

It’s a dice pool game. Collect d10s according a skill or power rating. You look for matches. The highest matched dice is the “height” — how well you succeeded, the number of matches is the “width” or how fast you succeeded (or did damage in combat.) There’s a difficulty scale from 0-10, and the situational modifiers pull or give dice. for simplicity sake, you are limited to rolling no more than 10 dice. Sounds easy…;til you get to dice “types”; there’s a litany of them — regular, hard, and wiggle, penalty and gobble, and you can add expert or fixed or squishy dice… Hard dice do a fixed result, wiggle can be modulated in their effect by the player; penalty and gobble dice are tied to difficulty — losing dice due to a situation, or losing their number of matches if they are beaten in a contest.

It could be an easy set of rules to play, but reading the book, it doesn’t come off that way.

Characters have six stats that can have regular, hard, or wiggle dice. There’s skills. The powers are hyperstats (superhuman stats), hyperskills, or “miracles” (powers.) The dice ratings are linked to examples of how much you could lift, how smart or persuasive you are, etc. Powers have flaws, pretty standard for supers games.

Combat is pretty straightforward, if you find the basic mechanic straightforward. There’s also a ‘damage silhouette’ with a certain amount of boxes of shock or lethal damage you can take.

There’s an alternate history for the campaign at the end that isn’t bad, and allows for a universe in which supers haven’t just shown up.

Overall, the basic idea of the “realistic” superhero game is pretty hard to pull off. If you’re going to add in actual powers, instead of just playing Batman, these assumptions won’t play very well with creatures like Superman or Wolverine. Verisimilitude is going to come more from the universe, than how “messed up” the characters are going to get. The One Roll Engine reads as terribly clunky, but I suspect this could be an artifact of the description of the mechanic in the book — I’ll hold judgment until it’s played.

Substance: The setting is well fleshed out without being too restrictive, and the rules cover the necessaries for playing a superhero game: 4 of 5. Style: the layout is good, the art is darkly atmospheric, in keeping with the style of the setting, but is average “game art” quality. The writing is surprisingly stilted and occasionally confusing for the people they had on the book: 3 out of 5.

Is it worth it? I honestly don’t know yet, but based off reading the game, if you want a “realistic” superhero game where the characters will get mashed up instead of riding through a lot of fighting — almost the antithesis of a supers setting — you could find a system for modern settings that accounted for, or could be adapted for, lower level powers. If you’re looking to do four color or even The Avengers cinematic-style supering, I’d suggest looking elsewhere.

Postscript: When I decided to take a crack at a “realistic” superheroes game, one of the things I also did was to make supers a historical artifact — we bent history to include alternate events with supers involved. Instead of going for the “look how real this is; the characters really get hurt!” angle, I went for more social restrictions. Sure you can knock down a building with your bare hands, but can you afford the lawsuit? Do you have a license to use your heat powers as a welder? does you wife know you were out all night fighting the sexy supervillainess? Shame you didn’t bring allies to back you up that nothing happened! This universe assumed the supers were willing to most act inside the law, but there were hints that most the governments of the world were just blustering and hoping these new gods wouldn’t just run roughshod over everything.

Should be interesting to see someone else’s take on supers.

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