326 Not So Supers

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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Happy to help! Some of those are actually fairly trad, but they still slew pretty far away from that power-level-pissing contest stuff, and are plenty of fun.

Supers! will always have a special place in my heart. It’s by Simon Washbourne, who I think is hugely underrated as a game designer – in addition to Barbarians of Lemuria, he’s done a whole bunch of other stuff I dig.

In the 1990s, on the Fudge mailing list, I always tried to articulate that I felt like any super ability / skill should be allowed to counter any other ability – provided it made sense in the game / narrative. I never really collected my thoughts on the subject, but Supers! came along and nailed that. It’s kind of an ugly game in terms of art and layout, and I initially bounced off it for that reason, but when I realized that Speedy McSpeedsterface could literally defend against laser blasts with his Super Speed, rather than DEX, or DCV, or “Defense…” – and what that meant was that he couldn’t then also use his speed to attack during that round… yeah. Powers, which were simple d6 pools, became hugely flexible. Eye-opening stuff, at least for me in the mid-late 2000s.

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Regarding Sci-fi, we had friendly game a few years ago where one player was completely hung up on the plot point where a cell phone was located from cell tower. He just couldn’t get past the fact you can’t do that off ONE tower, and the GM didn’t really care enough to address it, he just glossed over “I understand that you’re saying that’s not how it works, it’s a game, it’s a module, and we’re moving past it”. The player stewed and mumbled about it the whole session.


I just listened to the Not So Super episode. Even though I am huge comic book fan and have played superhero RPS’s since I got into gaming, I get peoples ambivalence towards them. I have searched for years looking for the perfect system, because it always felt as if it they were missing that je ne sais quoi.

So, what is missing? I disliked how superheroes interact with the world. That is to say their relationships with NPC’s. This is something I think is overlooked and under valued in gaming. If you remove NPC’s from your roleplaying game what you get is a board game. And this is what Superhero games often feel like to me.

Now take a common situation in D&D, like walking into a tavern looking for information. It’s not a big deal. Have a superhero walk into a bar and it is. Yes, a character’s secret ID can do it, but that also takes more that takes on more significance. Let’s test my scenario. The Grey Mouser walking into a tavern. No big deal. Batman walks into a bar and it is a big deal. Okay, now let’s try his secret identity. Bruce Wayne walks into a bar…

Something clicked while listening to the podcast. Superhero games are more restrictive than other types of RPG’s. This is baked into the genre. Outcomes feels pre-ordained. This does not seem to bother me in comic books, but not so in RPG’s. I never like to hear the train conductor saying, “all aboard.”

Modern comic book RPG’s like Masks shake this up a bit. But Masks, by the nature of it’s moves creates a certain type of experience and so still feels restrictive to me.

My solution, is to lean in and accept these limitations. To barrow a term, I will treat them as limited series. Not as a campaign without end. Treat them as a pallet cleanser, between campaigns and or adventures in other games. This way, by limiting playing time I will not mind their limitations. That is, if my players buy in.

This begs the question what is the system I will use. There are many I own that I have never tried, but Capes, Cowls and Villains Fowl and Worlds or Peril are on the top of my list. I even have the plans for a 3 adventure campaign.

Start in the 50’s and advance 30 years between adventures so we can play with the legacy of the heroes and villains. But what I really want is for the players to see the consequences of their decisions. Let them change the world for good and ill and then give them a way to correct things.

Anyway, thanks for another terrific podcast.


I listened to the latest episode. Glad to hear I’m not alone in that hard sci fi struggle. I think another answer for me, aside from running for people who just don’t care about science stuff, is to play and not run. So if anybody needs a player for an Expanse game, hit me up!


I like a lot of what you have in here.

Kyle’s voice mail got me thinking about WotC’s publishing model since 5e. Releasing smaller modules might not make financial sense anymore. Plus, with the advent of DMs Guild, they might consider the AL adventures that get released as something which fills that void. Also, they are making a sweet cut off the sale of the mods being published by others. Those releases probably fill the void for official adventure mods.

I’d love to know how much money they make allowing others to use the IPs.

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I’ve never had trouble with sci-fi, and generally adore many different flavors of it. Hard science fiction is my favorite, though, and now I’m wondering if I’m the guy being annoying and pointing out this and that during the game…

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So, for me, I wouldn’t consider you annoying at all. Just as with rules lawyers, (they got brought up during Sean’s chat this morning), I would find you helpful, smart, and informative.

I say that rules lawyers are helpful. I.e., “Oh, that’s how it’s supposed to go? Great! Thanks!” Rather than harming the game, they fix it. But when a narrative inconsistency arises—especially one connected to a scientific principle that I can’t quite understand—then the fiction crumbles, and there’s no way to “fix” that without adding more bs onto existing bs.

This is why, I think, I’m generally cautious of running sci-fi, though I read reams of it and am happy to play it.


Famous last words. Wait until we play!

I have “this guy” in my Castles and Crusades game right now.
Player A: “I want to this thing”
Me: “Sure. Uh… Let’s say it takes you two rounds and then we’ll roll a check with this modifier”
Player B: “That’s cool. If you’re interested, this is the rule. Not arguing, just FYI”.

LOVE that player.

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