326 Not So Supers

Sean is not a fan of supers rpg’s. Brett is not a fan of the hex crawl. We ask ourselves why and would there be any way to open up our minds.


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I think, in general, fewer folks are drawn to “supers” games which means a pitch for one needs a stronger hook. I can say to my players, “Let’s play D&D” and most of them will jump at the chance. This is kinda reflected in the popularity of “supers” RPGs on the market. There is definitely a strong niche there but it is smaller than the fantasy niche in comparison.

The same goes for hex crawls. Hex crawls have their fans but they are a subset of subset of gamers. Those who play hex crawls are already playing them. To draw in someone who isn’t necessarily keen on playing a hex crawl, you need something more to chew on in the pitch. Forbidden Lands, for example, includes an interesting setting and interesting ways in which the mists interacts with the hex crawl portion of the game. The setting and the mechanics drive each other.

I think when we are getting into niche games, if the group isn’t already playing in that niche, the pitch always needs that extra something to draw people in.


What? This makes no sense to me! I’m certainly looking forward to hearing you, in the show, give the reasons for your attitudes.

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For some reason I’ve never been keen on Supers, either. Should be interesting.


I equate it to my country music of RPG’s

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I know I’m hoping for some niche loving soon.

Ok, that came across a little creepy, so I’ll just drop this here and move on.

But seriously, the only supers game I’ve enjoyed has been Marvel Heroic and that was because it was mechanically fascinating to me. I imagine Masks is something I would enjoy, but PbtA tends to be too narrow of focus for me to enjoy for long. Otherwise, supers game tend to end being a bunch of math nerds wacking off to number crunching on how dusty Captain America’s bones would be after Hulk crushes America’s ass. (Endgame references, to be clear.)

Hex crawls? Never done one. Though everything I hear about Forgotten Lands gives cause to finally cross it off the list… eventually.

Oh… Oh damn… Alright, everyone stay calm. Sean used the “c-word”.


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Marvel Heroic is the one by Margaret Weis, right? I never got to play but I did like that system. I wish they had been able to support it longer than they did.

Yeah, MSH has basically morphed, along with all those other games, into Cortex Prime.

Imma get to the discussion on 'What genres do you hate not love," in a moment. First, this from @Akodoken:

I think, in general, fewer folks are drawn to “supers” games which means a pitch for one needs a stronger hook.

And this from @Warden:

Otherwise, supers game tend to end being a bunch of math nerds wacking off to number crunching on how dusty Captain America’s bones would be after Hulk crushes America’s ass.

So I’m an enormous fan of superhero games. And I know quite a few other fans as well, though they are absolutely, unequivocally far fewer in number than players who love terrible, awful, very bad fantasy games. :eyes:

And so yes, superhero games have a long history of being math heavy and full of ‘comparison’ charts about who’s stronger, who can lift more, who can blah blah blah. But… these days, there are games that aren’t like that -at all-. Marvel Superheroic Roleplaying is one of them. But there’s also: Supers!, Hit the Streets: Defend the Block, Masks, Four Color Fate Accelerated, Heroes Accelerated, Spectaculars, Worlds in Peril, Index Card RPG Vigilante City, Capes, Cowls & Villains Foul, Tiny Supers and more. Most recently there is the Sentinel Comics RPG, from the folks who did the Sentinels of the Multiverse board/card games. I haven’t played it yet, but it shows promise as it has DNA from Fate, PbtA, and Cortex running all through it. There’s Galaxies in Peril coming, which is a Forged in the Dark game.

Just wanted to show supers games a little love in the middle of all these hate rays. I say that tongue in cheek, but the genre is popular and many of us have left Hero / Champions and M&M behind. The very best of these games, IMO, don’t even have lists of powers to choose from, nor tables that show how much you can lift or blast or control or whatever. For me, these newer games are -hugely- fun.

Now then, other genres. There are so many… and frankly, I really dig most of them. Here, look:

Genres Harrigan Loves

  • Low or Mud & Blood Fantasy
  • Focused or Thematic High or Epic Fantasy
  • Dark or Horror-Fueled Fantasy
  • Urban Fantasy (old-timey and modern both)
  • Comedic / Goofy Fantasy
  • Swords & Sorcery
  • The Right Kind of Hex Crawl
  • Pulp (Victorian Explorers, 30s Serial Adventures, Rayguns and Dinosaurs, airplane adventures, etc.)
  • Historical (medieval, renaissance, Norse, colonial era, 20s gangsters, etc.)
  • Hard Science Fiction
  • Focused and Thematic Sci-Fi
  • Street Level / Low-Powered Supers
  • Four Color Supers
  • Cosmic / Lovecraftian Horror
  • Cozy Swedish Horror
  • Space Horror
  • Zombie Apocalypse Survival
  • Post Apocalyptic
  • Espionage (both gritty and pulpy)
  • Cyberpunk
  • Stonepunk / Primitive / Tribal
  • Time Travel
  • Epic Space Dungeons
  • Cute Animal Adventures
  • Space Marines
  • Space Fighter Pilots
  • Mecha
  • Westerns
  • Weird Westerns
  • Military (WWI, WWII)
  • Star Trek
  • Star Wars
  • Kid Adventures
  • Grim Sea Adventures
  • The Right Kind of Anime
  • Okay I give I could go on forever so I’ll stop

Genres Harrigan is Meh About

  • Gonzo Fantasy or Gonzo Science Fantasy except a few times a year
  • Space Opera
  • Unfocused Sci-Fi
  • The Wrong Kind of Hex Crawling
  • Most Dungeon Crawling
  • Transhumanism
  • Westerns where the PCs all have Weird or Dark Powers
  • Westerns mixed with anything else, really
  • Cyberpunk mixed with anything else
  • The Wrong Kind of Anime

Genres That Best Get the Fuck Out Harrigan’s Sight

  • Kitchen Sink Fantasy
  • Emo (World of Darkness)
  • Shadowrun all versions of Shadowrun ever all of them

In the end, quite a bit of my collection is crossover stuff or otherwise hard to categorize. I think my point is that I love a lot of different genres and types of games. Just not the really popular ones. =]

Other notes relating to the episode:

Mike Hunt’s WWII game The Front is more based off The Black Hack than Swords & Wizardry or Operation White Box. Both are cool and I’d like to play or run them some day.

Brett talked about how military gaming can go very wrong because of ranks and bad behavior and such. It sure can – I’ve seen it too. But I also think that with the right players, those games can be amazing. My group played Twilight 2000 recently – wow. WOW. Dig it. Might be the next game I run for my little Saturday morning group. And – AND! – it dumps the ranks / mil-structure thing. (Like the original.) You can even play civilians, or just soldiers who aren’t playing by the rules any more. Love it.

Sorry for the length of this…


Thanks for the VERY entertaining post, Harrigan.

I suppose there’s little point in me popping off here; I expect the boys know there will be some fallout concerning their (unformulated) attitudes. They know better than anyone that, as voiced, their preferences amount to little more than a shrug and a “meh, not for me.”

But Champions was the game of my youth that managed to introduce much more roleplaying than others (for comparison, MERP and WEG Star Wars also were in use). All we players had our heroes. With those heroes came hero-specific villains. In other games, we were free to murder (Orcs or Stormtroopers) and be done with the scenario. Not so in Champions! Kill someone, even a villain? Oh, you’re in trouble now! And we all know that, in comic books, death is not the end. That villain is going to return, somehow, transformed and with new tricks. And Disadvantages! Champions was, for me, the first game to introduce the gorgeous and useful rp tool of Dependent NPCs, Psychological and Physical Limitations, Public Identities, Vulnerabilities and Dependencies.

It’s so good! Now I want to play again!


I ran some early Champions while I was in college, early 1980s. Let’s just say that the “build your character out of disadvantages” mechanics lead to the most offensive character I ever had to GM for - A wheelchair-bound blind and deaf paraplegic with everything in Obvious [In]Accessible Foci with a bucket-full-o-sixes block-radius psionic blast. I remember it so well, since it was the last time I ever ran/played the game. Imagine being the GM that has to throw an enemy against that character. I hear the modern games are more like I think I wanted Champions to be back then - pulp, not points.

I was gifted a copy of one of the recent Dr. Who games - where the doctor (correctly) has significantly higher probability of success for most skills than the companions. But, the Doctor is a PC! This is something I still can’t wrap my head around - playing an ancient, nearly omnipotent PC with mortal companions. Even listening to AP didn’t help me understand how to make this work in my head.

I guess I’m not really equipped to be (or that interested in becoming) a Role-Play polyglot. I’m fine with this - as long as everyone stops telling me that I’m somehow deficient for not being one.

I’ll just sit here in my corner, happily playing with my d20, minis, and paper terrain… I’ll share!


Your college experience with Champions has direct relation to something Brett asked Sean in this episode: “Have you ever had a GM ruin a game for you?” What you describe, OldSchoolDM, is not how we played. Of course, we were 7th/8th grade, not college. Maybe that’s the difference. Maybe we were naive. I think we were playing pretend.

Champions in that era was 4th edition. I think, even at that time, it was positioning itself as a gamer’s toolkit. There even was a chapter that specified: can you use these rules to make a stupidly broken character? Of course you can! So don’t do it.

But now you have me considering if traditional formulations of Champions in this age can be perceived as problematic. The notion that you can take character points for Physical Limitations can be construed as ableist.


I’m pretty sure I was playing 1st edition (or maybe 2nd), but no later.

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And Disadvantages! Champions was, for me, the first game to introduce the gorgeous and useful rp tool of Dependent NPCs, Psychological and Physical Limitations, Public Identities, Vulnerabilities and Dependencies.

Honestly, this is what pulled me in. I actually ran across GURPS first, then later played Champions, but both have all the pieces you list that just spoke to me at the time. I’ve played both a lot over the years, and once in a while I’ve seen the bad behavior that @OldSchoolDM is talking about… and it’s frankly one of the things that bugs me about Savage Worlds. Points for Flaws just isn’t a good model when there are so many other ways to do it now, including “Everyone take two flaws.”

(Even worse, btw, and more common, were the players who would pile on the pysch limitations or the DNPCs or the Enemies and then never use them. Some GMs didn’t think to engage with them, and the result was a bunch of “free” points. This is part of why I don’t much dig point-buy systems these days, despite running GURPS games for about a decade. In my neck of the woods, Savage Worlds is huge. I like it well enough. But I run into gamers who just can’t understand why I am not like all in and play nothing else – especially when they find out I used to be a GURPS guy. I just tell them “I was, but I got better.”)

Oh, and…

I guess I’m not really equipped to be (or that interested in becoming) a Role-Play polyglot. I’m fine with this - as long as everyone stops telling me that I’m somehow deficient for not being one.

I hope you don’t feel like I was trying to brag up above, or tell anyone how to game. I drop glib comments liberally, but I am firmly of the to each their own mindset with most things in life, including gaming. That was my point – my own is hugely varied.


No worries, I didn’t think that about your post.


I appreciated the discussion about the challenges involved with sci fi games. I love hard science fiction, but I find that when I run a game for someone who is more knowledgeable about physics and technology, they might be confused about a story assumption I make that breaks real life rules. There was a time, in another group, that I dropped running harder sci fi and stuck to space opera so I could fill the gaps with “they invented a ___ that solves ____ problem.”

This experience affected me recently, running a game (Alternity, what else) where the party crashed on an asteroid that was under an induced spin (to simulate gravity inside it) and I was really agonizing about what that experience would be like and how to model the physics of trying to move across that surface (nobody invested in personal propulsion). These players really did not care, but my old group would have probably tried to teach me some physics instead of just bypassing the robot guards and accessing the compound.

My current players care very little about physics, engineering, or speculative technology, so aside from occasional explaining some aspect of computer technology (so many gamers are computer science people), they don’t seem bothered about what should be happening according to physics. It’s freeing for the story, but I do sometimes wonder if I am “getting it right.”


Last night I ran Alien for the first time and experienced this “physical sciences” problem firsthand. It’s Alien, so it was a low-pressure game, but I had some pseudo-science going on with snow and electrostatic that, though it didn’t seem to bother the players at all, totally eroded my own confidence in storytelling—I knew it was bs!

I read a lot of sci-fi (I’m subscribed to, and keep current with, both Analog and Asimov’s; I also supplement with other novels and stories), but I myself am a writer/English major.

I’m thinking that, from here on out, I’m going to stick with Sword & Sorcery. Now those physics I’m a bit better at understanding!


Or just game with more writers!

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Curious. I’d like to hear more about what’s troubled you, Gabe, and hope you don’t just straight hang up the sci-fi cloak after a single session…

Great list of some very narrative-based supers games. I stand corrected… aaaaand made a few additions to my wish list.

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