Growing up, my brother and I didn't learn RPG's through the traditional fantasy route; we played sci-fi and superhero games. That's why I've always had a soft spot for superhero RPG's, why I own many more than I'll ever get to play, and why I wanted to review "Supers! The Comic Book RPG".
As a product, Supers! is a 105 page watermarked PDF file. [I received two files zipped together, but I could not tell the difference. They both appeared to have color art and the same section index.] The artwork and titles are genre appropriate; the single column format and page size (European A5) make it easy to read on-screen. Though I'm using a laptop, I imagine a tablet computer in portrait (vertical) orientation would be ideal.
There are bookmarks in the PDF for each section heading. There is a table of contents in the front, but it does not hyperlink to the chapters or sections it describes. A more significant oversight was that the list of powers, advantages and disadvantages at the end of the document do not hyperlink to the relevant descriptions in the body of the document. The page would be useful to print out and distribute or stuff into a GM screen, but it would have been much more useful if it linked back to each power's description, etc.
On, to the contents ...
Chapter One - For Starters (pg 1)
As anyone who's read comics over the last few decades can attest, they vary wildly in morality and theme. To set the type of comic story that Supers! was written to tell, we have the following quote from page 2, "These heroes are larger-than-life; they have high ideals and they know right from wrong. Their world is black-and-white; they are good and the villains are bad. There are no real grey areas. Their cause is justice, liberty and freedom. They seek to protect the weak and defend the common man." So this isn't a game of ultra-violent antihero's or ethically suspect protagonists in a fallen world of compromise and vice. Instead, the authors have aimed squarely at the four color world of good guys and gals fighting for what they believe in, in a world still worth saving!
The system uses a pool of six sider's (d6). From page 3, "The basics of the rules are very straightforward - roll a few dice and try to beat a number. As long as you remember that, you can't go too far wrong."
The stated philosophy is simplicity of rules, in a supers game (no easy task). Again, from page 3, "... there is plenty of scope for you to come up with new or changed rules, new Aptitudes, Powers, Complications and Boosts, Ads and Disads. So that's great - it's your game and you should do things your way." So while the book covers the majority of cases and powers, the authors realize it's not comprehensive and empower the GM's (or "Judge's" as the book refers to them) to improvise as needed, using what's here as a basis.
Chapter Two - Creating a Super (pg 4)
You begin with a concept, including a background, origin, and costume. It's noted on page 5 that if you don't have a full background you can still proceed with the character because, "If it becomes important during the game, you can fill in these details at that time."
Then you assign dice to your four Resistances: Composure, Fortitude, Reaction and Will. Like the name implies, these are used to resist external effects and also are what damage is applied against during combat. This means that social combat is applied against Composure - not something often seen in superhero games.
After Resistances come Aptitudes (rated in dice), described on page 7 as, "essentially very broad, but mundane, skill packages. Aptitudes represent your character's day job, or what he does when he's not saving the world." Examples include Academia, Investigation, and Vehicles.
Next comes Powers, also rated in dice. These are the sort of meat-and-potato's of any super's game and the list provided in Supers! is more than adequate for nearly all four color stories. Acknowledging that their list is not comprehensive, Judge's are encouraged to use the powers available as a basis for other powers as needed.
I would like to note that the table for how much a super can lift is part of the Super Strength entry on page 20. The table ranges from 1D can lift a large horse, 5D can lift a bus, and 10D can lift a large passenger jet.
You can add a Complication to your power to reduce its cost; things like Delayed Use, Side Effect, and Uncontrollable. You can add Boosts to a power to increase it's effect; things like Area Affect, Split Attack, and Armour Piercing.
You can also use Advantages (Ads) and Disadvantages (Disads) to customize your character. Examples of Ads include Allies or Dumb Luck. Examples of Disads include having a Dependant or Enemy.
Chapter Three - Playing the Game (pg 34)
Conflict resolution is divided into opposed and unopposed rolls. Opposed rolls are against another character or NPC; both roll their d6's and the higher value wins. Unopposed rolls are made against a static threshold number assigned by the GM. This is all pretty standard stuff, except that there is a limitation on non-Super Resistances and Aptitudes. Basically, unless it's specifically noted as super, you only get 3D. If you have a specialty that applies, you can roll 4D and keep the highest 3 dice. In order to sum more than 3D you need to be Super, which usually means a Power.
Character advancement is handled by the Judge awarding dice for the players to assign to Resistances, Aptitudes, or Powers. This works just like XP in other games.
Chapter Four - Fighting (pg 38)
It should be pointed out that henchmen and mooks just get a static number that represents their effectiveness as well as their resistance. Tougher henchmen may get a single power or ability as well as their henchmen rating. Only full NPC's get all four Resistances and their own set of Powers. Among other things, this makes fights between one or two superhero's and a group of henchmen, very easy to run while still being challenging - but never getting bogged down in endless accounting.
Combat order is determined by Reaction (or the Rating of henchmen and mooks). Characters can delay actions or even interrupt the action of a villain who goes after them in the turn order.
You choose a Power or Aptitude to attack with and the defender gets to choose a Power or Resistance to defend with. The Judge can determine if the chosen Power/Aptitude/Resistance makes sense within context of the scene. Basically whoever rolled higher (or beat the Rating in the case of henchmen and mooks) wins. If the attacker wins, damage is done to the defender, otherwise not.
The number of multiples higher the attacker's roll is than the defenders determines how much damage was done; with a minimum of 1. So, if the attacker rolled a 5 and the defender rolled 3, then the attacker succeeded and damaged the defender. 5 is greater than 3 but less than 2x greater - so 1 damage is applied to the defender. If the attacker had rolled 6, 7, or 8 then 2 damage would have been done. If the attacker had rolled 9, 10, or 11 then 3 damage, etc. etc. etc. This has me a little concerned for ease of use at the table; long division never being anyones favorite. But it's not hard to understand and makes sense within the context.
I guess I'd just have to see how easily this plays with real players, perhaps after a couple of hours when everyone begins to wind down for the night.
There is a for-color-only knock-back rule on page 44; every point of damage applied to Fortitude knocks the target back 5 feet. There is no mechanical advantage or subsequent damage, but it's a good way for moving or removing a foe!
Chapter Five - NPC Types (pg 47)
A nice description is given of Bystanders, Mooks, Henchmen, & Villains. Including low-level villains, (regular?) villains, and mega-villains. The brief descriptions are supplemented with guidelines for how many dice to assign or where to place their Ratings.
Chapter Six - Disasters (pg 51)
This chapter covers earthquakes, floods, landslides, storms, volcanoes, and fires. It was very refreshing to see a superhero game address this aspect of classic comic books. Not every threat is a villain, and therefore not every problem can be solved by a punch to the face!
Chapter Seven - Supersville (pg 57)
This is the included setting, but it's only meant to be a "blank slate" for the Judge to locate within their own world. This section can act as a skeleton covering things like different sections of the city (from the wealthy of Brightside to the poor and unwelcome of Burnside), as well as organizations, buildings, and potential story seeds.
Honestly, I wouldn't even use the name "Supersville" because it's too corny, but the chapter will help a Judge cover the basics needed in describing whatever city they have planned for their intrepid hero's to inhabit. If you're familiar with comics, you probably already have plenty of ideas to fill it out.
Chapter Eight - Adventure (pg 65)
This is the introductory adventure to get the hero's going. As such, I'm not entirely sure it would have been my first choice. It has to do with dopplegangers damaging the hero's reputation and the hero's efforts to find the source of the doppelgangers and clear their names. This seems like it would work better after the hero's have had a chance to build a reputation in Supersville.
In any case, the adventure highlights the super-science, two-fisted action story that's perfect for these types of hero's. Whether you choose to use it as the first adventure for your hero's or not, it should definitely serve to inspire an equally large, grandiose feel that four color comics often had.
Chapter Nine - NPC Collection (pg 71)
This is a set of 27 hero's, villains, and NPC's that can be used right out of the gate. These include a sample set of hero's appropriate for a starting game (Dragster, Gemini, Megalith), as well as examples of more powerful hero's similar to those in certain popular comic books (Guardian, Galaxian).
My personal favorite is Apebot, the mega villain. He's a skull and brain in a glass tank, bolted atop a power-armoured gorilla. What's not to love!
After the NPC section is a blank character sheet. It's one sheet with plenty of white-space and a generous box for drawing your character in.
The book ends with a "Cheat Sheet Of Powers, Boosts & Complications, Ads & Disads" on the last page.
I believe the book meets the authors stated goal of keeping the rules simple, but not losing the four color feel they were aiming for. There should be enough crunch with the Powers, Complications and Boosts to keep the munchkins happy (at least for a while) and the resolution system is so simple that it can probably be explained in less than 10 minutes. I think I'm going to use Supers! for a convention game, with pre-made PC's. But, with the character advancement rules I believe that it can successfully be used for longer campaigns.
Among other things, I hope to see more releases of Supers! - perhaps with better hyperlinking, but hopefully with more NPC's and another scenario.
If you already have a favorite superhero game, I'm not convinced that Supers! will replace it. But if you're looking for an easy to learn, easy to teach game that exemplifies the simpler ethics of four color comics - than this would make a good addition to your library.