Part of writeups.org’s goal is to encourage people to play super-hero tabletop RPGs. Hence our role-playing games 101 article.
The second half of the 2010s sees a resurgence of tabletop RPG popularity, particularly D&D. In good part because it’s far easier to explain the hobby using online videos.
So here’s a more advanced intro article. For people who already know the 101, are familiar with D&D and its variants, and would like to see some super-action.
Say, because they’re superhero movies fans.
For more FAQ stuff, see our “FAQ central” article.
Waves of super-action
Superhero RPGs have been there since practically the beginning. An early stab (Superhero: 2044) was taken in 1977.
By the early 1980s, we already had mature games, such as :
- Champions, which long was the category king.
- Villains & Vigilantes.
- Superworld, perhaps best known as the origin of George R.R. Martin and Melinda Snodgrass’ Wild Cards novels.
During the mid-1980s there were two more category-defining games, DC Heroes and Advanced Marvel Super-Heroes. As the titles indicate they were officially licensed, which quite helped.
Palladium Games’ Heroes Unlimited was also a presence.
These remained a high water mark for a while. The existing games, such as Champions and DC Heroes, refined their mechanics in successive editions and supplements.
But even with their own strengths and innovations, newcomers (such as DC Universe, Marvel SAGA, Silver Age Sentinels, Aberrant, etc.) had difficulties holding a fragmented ground.
During the 2000s, the surge in popularity of the d20 system led to a new category leader – Mutants & Masterminds. It too would mature through successive editions and sourcebooks.
So, what can a late 2010s role-player do ? The best options are :
1/ Mutants & Masterminds 3rd edition
Also available as DC Adventures, which was licensed to use the DC Universe and its characters.
In most areas it may be the most common one. And it is derived from d20 systems, so it has commonalities with the big-name RPGs such as D&D or Pathfinder. It is supported by writeups.org, with hundreds of entries having M&M stats.
M&M 3rd draws from the great classics such as Champions and DC Heroes. That makes it a “medium crunch” game. That is, you have to study the rules to understand them. It’s not genuinely complex (“high crunch”) but you do have to sit and think.
You can simply grab a player’s handbook for DC Adventures on Amazon. Or for Mutants & Masterminds 3rd if the DCA books are too expensive due to Amazon weirdness – but these don’t have DC Comics material.
2/ Play the Great Old Classics
Older tabletop RPGs do not become obsolete. It’s not like there’s a technological evolution or some such. Thus, playing the three Great Old Classics remains fine.
This is the main tabletop RPG supported by writeups.org. It came up with elegant and innovative systems, which are “medium crunch”. There aren’t a tonne of rules, but they have depth.
You’ll find a lot of material about DC Heroes on WORG. A lot.
“MEGS” (Mayfair’s Exponential Gaming Systems) and Blood of Heroes (a later edition by another company) are the same system as DC Heroes. Getting a copy of Blood of Heroes: Special Edition on Amazon is simple and inexpensive, though the book isn’t a pretty or glossy one.
Advanced Marvel Super-Heroes
I loved this system as a kid. It was almost supported by WORG – but there are only so many hours per day. It is more accessible than DC Heroes, but a bit more limited.
The system is also called “Classic Marvel” or “FASERIP”. The original, 1980s books published by TSR tend to be expensive, but there are retro-clones such as the FASERIP game .
To explore this you should check the fan community at Classic Marvel Forever .
As of 2018, the latest edition is Champions Complete. This is a higher-crunch game, for people who want more fiddly bits and tactical tuning and systems to play with.
Since Champions has been around for decades, there are many sourcebooks, settings, rulebook and the like.
“HERO system” is essentially the same as Champions. For more about the game, you can check HERO Games’ website .
3/ Play modern niche games
The 2000s and 2010s saw much experimentation and niche games. These often aim for the low-crunch, more narrative-based style of tabletop role-playing.
ICONS Assembled Edition
Same designer as Mutants & Masterminds, but much smaller and simpler.
Whereas M&M channels DC Heroes and Champions, ICONS channels Advanced Marvel Super-Heroes. It also draws from a much more recent, narrative-oriented system called FATE.
You can simply get it on Amazon.
Marvel Heroic Role-Playing
Now known as Cortex Heroic RPG since the Marvel licence was time-limited. This distinctive system does things differently than most, with an almost experimental vibe.
This means that the game can centre on story beats and character traits. But its concepts aren’t immediately obvious to many.
The books (authored by Cam Banks and Margaret Weis Productions) are now getting expensive due to low print runs. But they do have the Marvel material. The system in itself has evolved into the Kickstarted game Cortex Prime .
SUPERS! Revised Edition
This one is a solid example of recent “indie” RPG super-hero design, aiming for a good balance between story and system.
If the indie scene turns out to be your thing, other well-regarded indie systems include BASH, Capes Cowls & Villains Foul, Masks, Squadron UK and Prowlers & Paragons.
4/ Even more alternatives
The Powered By The Apocalypse RPG framework is oriented toward storytelling. So it’s more about collaborative story beats and character moments than simulation.
As of this writing, the main super-hero-themed PBTA game is Masks: A New Generation. It is specifically about the tribulations and feelings of young super-heroes.
The latest entrant as of this update is the Marvel Multiverse RPG. It’s an official Marvel game, which always helps with sales.
I’d consider it almost-low crunch, and it’s a well-produced book. Some technical aspects I’m not wild about, in a “it needs a second edition” sort of way – but there’s a lot of announced supplement that’ll likely take care of that. It’s generally fine, and simple enough.