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Sentinel Comics: The Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook
Publisher: Greater Than Games, LLC
by Colin B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/03/2021 06:42:57

I'd been playing Sentinels of the Multiverse, the card game set in the same universe as this RPG, for a number of years before I heard about this game being kickstarted, and as a fan of the universe and superhero RPGs in particular, I decided to back it to see what innovations it would bring to my table. I'm always initially wary of new superhero RPGs, having been burned by systems that promised more than they could deliver in the past, but I had faith that the same attention to detail and tight design that went into SotM would be repeated here. I am happy to report that my faith has been rewarded, and then some. As a lifelong GM (not my choice, believe me, I'd love to play!), I've been looking for a system that walks that fine line between narrative freedom and systemic crunch, capable of satisfying the roleplayers and the gamers at the session. Sentinel Comics is that game.

Let's start with the visuals; from the moment you open the book and see the beautifully-rendered (but sadly very fake) comic covers from throught the faux-publisher's history, you know you're in a fully realised universe with its own laws and stories and characters. The keyword here is love. The designers have poured their love of the genre into the aesthetic of this book, and it shows on every bright, full-colour page.

From there we're introduced to a few key concepts that detail what to expect from reading the book. It's all written in a friendly, encouraging style that feels more conversational than instructive, which will no doubt help put younger or less experienced gamers at their ease.

After this, we're treated to a discussion of the core concepts of the system, including Environments and the very exciting Scene Tracker. For GMs who struggle to insert a sense of urgency into their action scenes, this idea is made for you...as the scene progresses, the stakes are raised both dramatically and mechanically, and characters and their abilities evolve along with the scene to create a palpable sense of tension and urgency. Another neat side-effect of this part of the rules is how well it promotes the idea of teamwork. Even characters who have been taken out of the fight can still contribute to the story. And somehow, the system achieves all this with a pool of only three dice at maximum for any given situation. The dice consciously take a back-seat to the action, a welcome change for an old-school gamer like me who's been looking for a supers game that promotes that level of narrative freedom.

Next up is character creation. There are several options for this, the default being random. I was skeptical at first, having been saddled with way too many characters with serial reincarnation and prehensile hair from the old FASERIP system, but once I started following the steps and saw just how much breadth of choice was presented within a few die-rolls, I was on board. While this is a great idea for anyone who turns up to a session without a concept for a character, what impressed me most was how ideas sprang to life with every new die-roll. I have no doubt this was the author's intent, and he nailed it on the first go. Next came a very helpful chapter on running the game. Again, everything is explained in clear, simple language that encapsulates all the core concepts of the rules without bogging you down with excessive minutiae. From the start, the GM is encouraged to be creative, both with their ideas for settings, environments and villains, and with their interpretations of events during play.

The Bullpen chapter is a useful tool for designing all the stuff a GM will need to set up his game. It explains exactly how to create the above-mentioned environments, twists, villains and minions, with an emphasis oin balance and fairness. Too often in superhero games, a GM might feel inclined to create a small army of bad guys for the players to fight, to lengthen a scene or create a false sense of drama. In Sentinel Comics, the Environment, the Scene Tracker, the villain and minions all combine seamlessly to create that tension without it turning into a dreary 'I punch bad-guy A' process. The sense of investment in created in the sessions I've run has been noticeable, and even my players have commented on it. Treating the environment the scene is set in like a character in itself was a surprising and welcome addition that forces GMs to rethink how they frame action scenes, which is no bad thing in my opinion.

Next, we're given a couple of short adventures to introduce new players to the game. While I felt these didn't do as good a job of this as the excellent Sentinel Comics Starter Kit, they're a great launchpad for the players' own characters, and a nice introduction to the world of Sentinel Comics.

After this comes a huge chapter on established characters from the setting. During the Kickstarter, I asked the author if there'd be a good bit of attention paid to the established universe's characters, and he told me I'd be pleasantly surprised. He wasn't wrong. Some of the big-hitters are here, like Legacy, Bunker, Absolute Zero and my personal favourite, Wraith (I'm a massive Batman mark), along with a rogues gallery of villains and pregenerated minions that will come in very handy. There are also pre-built environments from some of the recognised settings in the card game, serving as both play-aids and inspiration for your own ideas. A useful addition both from a gaming standpoint, and for a fan of the universe.

Lastly comes an appendix that acts as both a glossary of mechanical terms and index at the same time, a thoughtful and helpful nod to GMs who don't have a lot of time to look stuff up. And lastly, we're given blank character, auxilliary and villain sheets in both black & white and full colour.

From an outsider's perspective, this whole book read like an answer to a question from the publishers, being "What kind of superhero game would we like to play ourselves?" The answer is a fast-paced, exciting and most importantly fun game where the rules take a backseat to the story and the group come together as a team to defeat whatever threats arise. I myself loved the way the system promoted the possibility of mixing street-level vigilantes like Batman or Daredevil with powerhouses like Superman or Thor, without feeling like you were throwing the little guy a bone. Here, everyone has something to contribute, and the mechanics ensure that the guy who uses gadgets and billy-clubs has as much part to play as the guy who can throw tanks around. Best of all, it doesn't even get mentioned in the text, because the authors understand how teams like the Avengers and the Justice League work, and incorporated that balance intentionally to better emulate that comic-book team feel.

In summary, Sentinel Comics sets out to provide a fast, fun love-letter to silver-age comic action, while offering GMs the opportunity to take the rules in any direction they wish. In my opinion, they succeeded above & beyond expectations. I have transported my homebrew campaign setting from its original system across to Sentinel Comics, and already love how the new versions of the characters somehow feel more like they were intended. A well-deserved 5 stars from me. Get the PDF, by all means, but don't deny yourself the pure pleasure of reading the hardcopy when it becomes available. This is a must-have for any fan of comic-book RPGs, and my go-to system going forward.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Sentinel Comics: The Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook
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City of Mist: All-Seeing Eye Investigations Starter Set
Publisher: Son of Oak Game Studio
by Colin B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/22/2020 03:50:41

Wow...where to start? I backed the original City of Mist Kickstarter, and I'm always amazed at how every new product release improves on the gameplay and universe presented in this simple elegant system. Here, you'll see classic pulp noir tropes rubbing shoulders with mythological titans, old gods, fairytale characters brought to often-grim life and a myriad of stories, cases and mysteries waiting to be unravelled. There is no linear plot progression; players solve cases at their own pace, following up on the leads that interest them, meaning that MCs (the GM analog) can recycle unused or untouched ideas back into later stories.

As for gameplay, well...anyone familiar with any PbtA game will be on familiar turf here, but City of Mist approaches the system with a fast & loose interpretation that allows for critical thinking and cunning application of abilities. All in all, there should never be a situation where a player feels they have nothing to contribute to events, and the level of personal agency granted to players over their skills is a refreshing twist.

This new starter set is a perfect drop-in point for anyone who has been interested in City of Mist but is unsure where to begin. The artwork is gorgeous throughout, evoking the feel of a genuinely mysterious noir setting, and the rules presented offer players a 'learn-as-you-play' experience that unfolds cinematically, while remembering that you're new. Done right, nobody should feel overwhelmed, and everybody should have something to bring to the case.

In summary, City of Mist is a game that defies attempts to explain it: The play's the thing, and playing this game should be all the explanation you need as to why I consider it a modern masterpiece of RPG writing. Amit Moshe has created a beautiful, haunting, scary and deep sandbox for players and GMs to sift through, and the Starter Set is the ideal tool to begin your journey. But don't take my word for it. Punish that 'Add to Cart' button and find out why you should be playing this game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
City of Mist: All-Seeing Eye Investigations Starter Set
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ICONS Superpowered Roleplaying: The Assembled Edition
Publisher: Ad Infinitum Adventures
by Colin B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/04/2020 07:29:02

When I heard Steve Kenson was writing a new superhero RPG, I will admit to being one of the first people to ask myself 'Why?' After all, I reasoned, Steve already nailed the formula for a successful supers RPG with the amazing Mutants & Masterminds. Did the world really need another superhero system?

As I later discovered, Steve had anticipated this critique, and as he himself said in the introduction of Icons, there is 'no one perfect system' for any genre. Icons scores high initially by not trying to be something it isn't. Here you will not see reams and reams of detailed charts for every conceivable eventuality that may occur in-game. Nor is there a definitive list of superpowers or a rigidly defined campaign setting. Instead, what GMs and players get here is a rules-light, fast-paced and just plain fun book with engaging visual style and class to spare, that encourages the player to remember their Saturday mornings as a kid watching DC SuperFriends or the brilliantly Claremont-esque 90s X-Men cartoon, and to take that wonder and enthusiasm to the game table to kick some villainous butt.

A few die-rolls in, you're already on your way to creating an exciting character, guided through the process with easy-to-remember rules and charts that, while random, never try to screw you over or saddle you with an unplayable character. I'm reminded of the character creation charts in the M&M GM's Kit here; make some rolls, write down what you get, and you're ready to dispense some justice! Of course there are options for tailoring a character to your own needs, but as a grognard whose first experience of superhero RPGs was the old FASERIP system, this addition of randomly rolled characters was a sheer joy to try out (And no, I'm not going to tell you what I ended up with initially...shudder).

Most of all, the randomness of character creation is a great tool to jumpstart the players' imaginations, as it encourages you to think about your character's background and personality based on what you roll, which is an exercise in itself. Claws, hyper-leaping and superstrength? Sounds like a modern-day lord-of-the-jungle analog to me! Watching players come up with rationales for the random elements that tie into a cohesive story for their characters is a lot of fun, almost like a game-within-the-game where there are no bad ideas and classic heroic tropes are the rule (a welcome change from the tendency of many publishers towards edgier superhero content).

Once you have a character ready to roll, you can hit the streets and see how much good you can do, and Icons places control for the narrative firmly with the entire group. Players feel like legitimate heroes, with abilities far beyond the norm and a clever, useful Determination mechanic where the motivations and personality of the character can drive them to great feats. This mechanic is a terrific balance, as characters with few or no powers get more intitial Determination and can therefore effect more change on the scene personally, rendering them as valid as the major powerhouses. Watch an episode of Justice League Unlimited and see how the unpowered Batman runs alongside the heavy-hitters and you'll see what I mean. The fact that the author added this as a core conceit of the system speaks to his love of the genre, and made me smile ear-to-ear.

Mechanically, the rules are simple enough that anyone could pick them up in minutes. At most, 2d6 is all you'll need to roll; roll 1d6 and add the acting attribute or power, then subtract the difficulty determined by the GM. This gives you your Effort, which determines how well you succeed at any given task. Previous editions stated that the GM never rolls dice, but that has been changed for the Assembled Edition. All the previous edition's rules are very much in place as options, however, so if you're reading this book from the perspective of a 1st edition player, the transition will be smooth. Another welcome addition is the pyramid test introduced in the Villainomicon, which allows GMs to add tasks the whole group can help to complete in different ways. Anything that encourages a team of heroes to come together in a crisis is a worthwhile idea in my book.

There are sample characters in the book also, but at no point does the reader feel like these have to be part of their setting. Indeed, Icons feels more like a sandbox RPG than a rigid world with no options for players. The ease with which the system approaches everything seems to encourage players & GMs to explore their creativity and populate their world with heroes, villains, organisations, aliens, you name it. As someone who enjoys world-building, especially with the entire group involved, this is a welcome feature, especially for groups with younger players who might have great ideas but find some systems' approach to realising them daunting.

In summation, I agree with Steve Kenson wholeheartedly. There is no perfect superhero system, but there are perfect systems for specific objectives. If your objective is to have fun, not sweat the small stuff and throw cars at cackling evildoers while wearing a cool costume, Icons might just be everything you're looking for. There's a surprisingly deep and elegant system hidden among the reader-friendly text and colourful art style, and newcomers and grognards alike will find something they enjoy here.

So...until Atomic Roach checks in but doesn't check out...Make Mine Icons! I recommend you do too.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
ICONS Superpowered Roleplaying: The Assembled Edition
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Worlds in Peril
Publisher: Samjoko Publishing
by Emma M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/12/2015 07:48:48

Beautifully presented with comic-book quality art throughout, this is a product that does everything it can to immerse the reader in the genre from page 1. While the writing style may feel rambling and excited at times, and a few elements could use clarification (character creation in particular), this only served to ramp up my enthusiasm for the game, as I often get this way when describing a new system to friends. And what a system it is! Taking its' cues from the wildly (and justifiably) popular Apocalypse World, Worlds in Peril presents us with a world of heroes & villains locked in physical battles for the streets of the city, and mental and personal battles with the life behind the mask. Very few games have successfully touched upon this element of the genre, and fewer still do it with such class and effortlessness as WiP. This is a game where you genuinely can be torn between taking down the villain or saving the hospital his goons are terrorizing, because that's where the villain put your girlfriend during his last attack! In my opinion, as with AW, a lot of trust between the GM and the players is required to make this work, because of the emphasis on narrative over number-crunching, but if you're one of those lucky people, like me, who has a group he's been playing with for years, they'll eat this up with a spoon. I run my first game next week, and we're already excited. I'm looking forward to seeing where this system, and its author, goes in the future. I predict great things.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Worlds in Peril
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Valiant Universe: The Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Emma M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/02/2014 10:54:13

I have now finally run a game of Valiant Universe, and can confidently report that I feel that many of the issues other reviewers have perceived with this system are, in my opinion at least, part of what makes this a must-have purchase. I've been a supers gamer for a long time. I've played and run the sublime (DC Heroes) to the ridiculous (Heroes Unlimited), and I've always noticed the same thing every time. In every group I've played in or run for, there is always at least one player who says "But I wanted my character to have (insert obscure power here)!" A lot of GMs are happy to hand-wave and come up with a rule on the fly, and that's great, but some systems actively support the 'go-anywhere-build-anything' mindset, Champions & M&M being the first two that spring to mind. But often, because of this, most of the first session is spent juggling points, calculating modifiers and getting migraines, all before a single die has been rolled. In Valiant, at last, we have a system that says "sure, why not? If it's okay with the group, define the power as far as it makes sense. Can we play now?" Yep, that last sentence above is key to the design ethic behind Valiant Universe; this thing is FAST! But that speed doesn't cost the game any depth. Actions run the gamut from combat to skill use to even some very odd power descriptors (Woody's 'Snark' and Faith's 'Pop Culture Knowledge' spring to mind here), hinting at a system that is as flexible as it is fun. And therein lies the point of this review: This is a fun game, perfect for pick-up play or a long-term campaign, capable of telling deep, engaging stories or hosting a superpowered downtown grudge-match, and as adaptable as the players and Lead Narrator feel it needs to be. And this is only the first release...I for one will be giving this new contender a fair shake, as the mile-wide smiles on the faces of my group when the first session wrapped were all the proof I needed that we had ourselves a winner.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Valiant Universe: The Roleplaying Game
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Future Heroes powered by Fate Core
Publisher: Starbright
by Emma M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/30/2014 07:55:29

I have to agree with Joe D on this one. A sad observation about all Starbright's Fate Core products. No actual details on how to apply any of their information to the system; just a lot of half-finished ideas. I came away from this book feeling like I had to write the rest of it.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Future Heroes powered by Fate Core
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Prowlers & Paragons Quickstart Issue
Publisher: LakeSide Games
by Emma M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/02/2013 00:00:00

Great little system. A surprising amount of depth for such a small book, and a great deal of options. Just wish it'd come out in hardcopy so my technophobe GM will run it!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Prowlers & Paragons Quickstart Issue
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BASH! Ultimate Edition
Publisher: Basic Action Games
by Emma M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/14/2012 19:13:06

At just over 140 pages, you'd be forgiven for thinking BASH was a beer-&-pretzels, no-brainer kind of game. Don't be fooled for a second. The writing is tight & concise, the artwork fun (while a bit too DC Animated for my taste), and above all, the system is player -and- GM-friendly, a rare thing in an ever-increasing market of superhero titles. Character creation is effortless, and encourages the player to think in terms of the character as a person, not just a set of numbers. There are some critics who say the game lacks 'granularity', but let's be honest, when you've just picked up an M1 Abrams tank, do you care whether you can throw it 45 meters or 50? No, me neither. In the end, the game does exactly what it sets out to: Presents a fast, fun, adaptable & wide-open superhero game with none of the bean-counting of certain other titles. I've played most of the superhero games out there, but when you (and your players) read a new book and ask yourself 'How can I create insert your regular character here in these rules?', you know you've found a keeper. 'Basic' doesn't have to mean 'dumbed-down', and this is one case where it definitely doesn't! Stop reading now & go buy this. Really. You'll be so glad you did.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
BASH! Ultimate Edition
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Fight! Round 2
Publisher: Divine Madness Press
by Emma M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/27/2011 08:47:35

A useful book, which adds all kinds of crunch & fan-service goodness to an already great product. 'Fight!' is quickly becoming one of my favourite systems, simply due to its' elegance & breadth of character creation possibilities, and 'Fight! Round 2' adds even more to the mix. Sure, there are one or two bits you'll look at & think 'I am never going to use that in my campaign', but the additions & options offered will surprise you. Want fatalities a la Mortal Kombat? They're here. Want team fighting? Got ya covered. Want fantasy, supers or even mecha? Comin' right up. In other words, the options offered here are as varied and colourful as the 2-D games the system emulates. Some of the crunch seems a bit excessive, as I believe the core system is pretty much playable as-is, but there will always be someone who cites an obscure move variation from some unheard-of fighting game, and this book can help GMs deal with those players without resorting to a cattle-prod. Useful? Yes, very. Essential? For me, yes, but some may not agree. Worth it in any case? Oh yes...buy this. If you liked 'Fight!', you'll find oodles of stuff here to make your game better. FLAWLESS VICTORY!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fight! Round 2
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