Up for review this week is “Godlike,” a role-playing game designed by Pagan Publishing and released by Arc Dream Publishing.
The short version of that Godlike is a super heroes’ game set in the Second World War. It is not a four-color depiction of heroes, but a more plausible depiction of war and how superheroes would function in a war. By way of a movie comparison, it is not so much Captain America as it is Saving Private Ryan crossed with X-Men First Class.
Dennis Detwiller created Godlike and Greg Stolze is responsible for the game mechanics. Others involved include Allan Goodall, Shane Ivey and Jessica Hopkins.
One of Godlike’s few let down is the art – all of which is by Detwiller. It is predominantly photos from the Second World War… or edited photos from the Second World War. This does help to sell the tone and theme of the work, however it is also limiting and there are other ways to illustrate the game’s vibe. As such, the art is a disappointment.
To its credit, the book sports a solid table of contents and comprehensive index. It is also well organized, with chapters flowing logically, moving from general topics – such as a fairly standard “what is an RPG” and discussions of the many ways a character can die – to the specific, such as discussions of the powers available and even the kinds of standard rations available during the Second World War.
Within Godlike, super powers are called “miracles” and those who possess them are called talents.
Talents have the power to perform miracles, some great and some small, however they are soldiers first and thus are ultimately tools in a terrible war. Surviving and winning the war depend more on ability of a unit of talents to achieve their mission, rather than a single PC with the ability to kick the ass of every single German ever. This is a good and suits the game.
Less good is that the game is not amenable to a sandbox style of play.
Sandbox play requires several things, including openness, flexibility and of course 1,000 pounds of play quality sand. A game book does not have to provide the sand – that is usually available at your local hardware store - but it does have to provide openness and flexibility. Godlike has a lot going for it, a well executed work, solid mechanics, an intriguing premise and location. However, aside from that it is sadly inflexible.
Much of the book is devoted the an alternate time line for World War II, one which adheres as closely as possible to true events while still being a home to super powered people. So the Nazi’s army still breaks its teeth off on Stalingrad resistance by the winter of 1943, D-Day still happens on June 6th of 1944 and atomic bombs still destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945.
Only one small section about a third of the through chapter eight discusses changing things, and then only briefly and more or less serves to give permission to do this rather than providing any tools or ideas for such a thing. The section elsewhere in the book describing in detail the types of army rations employed in the war is longer than the section on changing the course of the war – though the army rations section is a bit of interesting trivia while a discussion of changing the war would have been useful in an actual game.
Godlike possesses one of the most comprehensive and useful game mechanics for creating and using super powers available on in the RPG market. It provides a framework for creating everything from standards such as great strength, flight and damage resistance to rarer stuff, such as physical transformation, the ability to play with inertia and teleportation. For example, with this mechanical system the particular inventive genius of characters like Lex Luthor, Dr. Doom and Reed Richards are actually a kind of super power. Lastly, in addition to a system for creating super powers, Godlike provides almost 50 example powers.
Various draws backs balance all the powers. Here are some examples; to fly a talent must get a running start of 30-feet, a talent may use a miracle to bind or grapple targets but only so long as they are looking at the targets, or a talent might transform themselves into a copy of a target, but only if they taste the blood of the target. The miracle devices, like those created by the games version of Lex Luthor, Dr. Doom and Reed Richards, only work when their creators are watching.
In any event, the flaws make sense and do much to sell the talents, the miracles and the concept of the game itself.
Further, talents can – under the right circumstances and with the right rolls – negate each others’ powers, reducing each other temporarily to a standard mortal. So a talent who creates arguably mediocre miracles can contend with a talent who creates so-called Godlike miracles.
Godlike employs a mechanic unofficially called the “one roll engine” – it does not appear to have an official name. It is a dice pool mechanic, using a fistful of 10 sided dice. A player rolls a number of dice matching the characters score in a stat. So, if the character has a five in strength then the player will roll five dice for something related to strength. Miracles work the same way and depending on what the player is attempting to do and the circumstances, the score stat score adds to a power score and maybe a skill score to determine the number of dice rolled. The maximum number of dice rolled is 10.
This on its own would be more or less a repeat of the Storytelling engine employed by White Wolf games. However, mechanic designer Stolze adds an interesting twist in the form of not just the “height” of a success but the “width” of a success. Specifically, the number of matching dice determines success in a roll. So rolling a nine is useless unless the roll also produces at least one other nine. Getting multiple matching dice is is the width of the success and of course higher matching dice is useful and having multiple matching dice – say you roll a pair of fours and a pair of sixes – also has an impact on the game.
The mechanic also includes features called wiggle dice and hard dice. Hard dice are always 10 and the player determines the value of a wiggle dice, presumably to match the result of the dice roll to create a matching pair or expand an existing matching set.
The damage system is also specific, with the possibility of characters having a mental breakdown due to combat stress or getting their legs shot out from under them and surviving… or not.
To wrap this up, Godlike mechanically is solid and the setting meticulously well researched. A term like “realistic” is misused when discussing RPGs while a better term is “plausible.” As presented here, the “Godlike” world is highly plausible and the mechanic supports the game well. Further, the book is well organized.
However, weak art and a lack of sandbox style of play holds it back, meaning in the end it gets a 15 on a d20 roll.
If you are interested in a game set in the Second World War, check out Godlike. If you are interested in a comprehensive system for super powers, then check out Godlike. If you want both, then play Godlike.
Godlike is available through Arc Dream Publishing.
Neither of my grandfathers served in the Second World War – they were too old – but I had an Great-Uncle who served in the European theater. He did not like to talk about it but he was one of the men at Normandy on D-Day. That invasion went on for hours and he was among a group that apparently made landfall after dark. As it was told to me, not all the injured soldiers had been retrieved by that point and he and the others went up the beach with and screams and moans of injured Americans calling to them from the darkness.
And they pressed on.
And won the war.
I miss my great Uncle Art.