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Smallville Roleplaying Game

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Smallville Roleplaying Game
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Smallville Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/10/2012 07:33:42

Originally posted at:

The Smallville RPG is a pretty specific RPG that covers the show up through Season 9, but has broad enough rules that you could actually adapt it to run just about any type of game you wanted. If you’re looking for something to recreate the feel of Smallville but wanted to do Justice Society of America or the Justice League instead, they’ve got that covered. This isn’t an RPG for someone looking for a heavy combat scenario or dungeon crawls though. This is an RPG for a group that really wants to role-play, and even further than that, it’s almost an RPG about relationships. At its core that’s how it works, laying out how the leads relate to each other and what one has over the other, making the relationships more complicated as you set-up your Leads and their supporting cast known as Features and Extras. If you take out the super-hero elements you could even just use this as a table-top dating or relationship simulator. The uses are fairly broad beyond the Smallville elements.

I’m actually reviewing the PDF version here, but the book itself is in full color, with photos from the actual show inside along with artwork for a few characters later on. It’s broken down into 14 different sections, covering the history of the show, character creation, online play, episodes and scenes, and of course, Kryptonite. Because this tries to replicate what’s going on in the show using a modified version of the CORTEX system, this really is a very different type of RPG. Usually when my friends and I create characters to play we go off into our corners with the rule books and work on our concept after consulting the GM, or in Smalleville’s case, the Watchtower. This really isn’t the case with this game. Character creation is a joint effort requiring all the players input.

You start out with your characters (Leads) early years and follow the Pathways chart to flesh out the events for your character, creating ties with the other characters as you do so. Not every character will have a tie with another character at first, and even later you may only have something directly with that Lead through another player. This also allows the Watchtower to create Features for the Leads who can be called on for assistance or add a bit of drama to the gaming sessions. Creating the Leads can be simple enough depending on when you want to start in their lifetime, or it can get really complicated as you grow them up and they get more intertwined. You also have different options as far as Drive, Assets, and Resources that further define your Lead and can add to their arsenal in the relationship war, giving them access to more dice in a Contest with another character.

To make the game feel even more like the television show, gaming sessions are called Episodes which are broken down into Scenes. Scenes play out using an almost journalistic approach, giving the players lots of information to work with, and much like television, not every character is going to be there for every scene. When the scene has been played out, there might be some conflict before it’s resolved, usually through Contests. Contests are basically when the Leads are working at cross-purposes and can be resolved a number of ways, either through the one player giving in to another, or by rolling against their appropriate stat. If they do it this way, it keeps going back and forth until one of the Leads loses the Contest and accumulates Stress. Stress affects your dice rolls and shows how much one Lead is affecting another through their actions. It’s an interesting system and it really accounts for someone like Lex Luthor having one over on Superman and Superman really not having much to do about it even though he’s so over-matched for Lex in most ways. There is the chance for combat to occur, but the bulk of what players will be doing is interacting on each other at a more personal level.

The book itself has some great ideas for running episodes and scenes, covers different scenes that might come up and how they’d be resolved as well as giving you an in-depth breakdown of actual episodes from season 8 and 9 of the show. If you’re looking to just pick it up and play, a little chart creation may be involved, but the Leads and Features from the show are fully statted in the People section of the book. After you get the basics down the rules are pretty straight-forward and easy to learn with a lot of leeway given for character interaction and role-playing out the conflicts before it ever even comes to dice-rolling.

I like that this game tries something new when it comes to adapting any kind of show to a different medium. There are plenty of other super-hero RPGs out there, but most focus on combat and stats, and this one makes it all the more personal for a player. I can see this not being for everyone, and I think I’ll actually have a hard time getting a group together as most of my RPG group isn’t necessarily fond of the show, but if I ran it as a more personality driven RPG ripe for high drama where you can really mess with the other player and it’s supposed to work that way, I’d get a few biters. I think it’s a pretty well designed system, but it takes a bit to grasp how the rules work and I can see a lot of player confusion until you actually start plotting out your pathways and do a few sample Contests to give them the idea of how it all comes together. There’s a lot of ground covered in the book itself and for the price, the PDF is a really good value. If you have a regular group and are looking for something a little different I’d definitely give it a try. It won’t be for everyone, but it will deliver a rather unique experience with that Smallville flavor.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Smallville Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Robert S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/29/2011 06:06:57

This week I am reviewing Smallville, the role-playing game.

Released by Margaret Weis Productions, Smallville, the RPG, is based upon the popular TV show of the same name. This is the source of this RPGs material, its successes and unfortunately its failures as well. Smallville the RPG is also the latest adaptation of a TV series to a role playing game released by Margaret Weis Productions. Other such games from shows released by her company include Serenity, Battlestar Galactica, Supernatural and Jersey Shore.

Starting with the structural matters, Smallville, the RPG is available in hardcopy and PDF. This review focuses on the PDF version, though I am led to believe the physical copy rings in at close to 220 pages, possesses a hard cover, is printed on good quality paper and is all in full color.

Moving on from there, the book is attractive, bright, with easy to read text and many images captured from episodes of the titular series. The PDF does not feature an index, but an excellent table of contents and a superb internal organization makes up for this arguable deficit. In short, the book presents the game well.

All RPGs must handle a number of things, including conflict resolution in some manner and powers and resources. Smallville the RPG is no different and it is innovative in several areas, including making everything it can dependent upon relationships and turning game plot and world creation into a collaborative process.

In terms of mechanics, Smallville uses a variation of the Cortex System developed by Margaret Weis Productions for all of its books. In its simplest form, the Cortex System employs the usual spread of RPG dice – the d4, d6, d8, d10 and d12 – and players usually roll at least two dice, one representing an ability and one representing a skill or something similar. The results are added and compared to a target difficulty to determine success or failure.

Smallville the RPG rattles this by replacing normal abilities with six values, including duty, glory, justice, love, power and truth. All characters possess these values and their die for the value says much about the character. For example, Clark Kent gets d10 (the second highest die for the game) for justice, with the descriptive phrase I must protect the innocent, while Lex Luthor gets d10 for power, with the descriptive phrase I need to be in control. By comparison, in the Jersey Shore RPG Snookie’s value is glory, with the descriptive phrase, Let All Know I Am Skanky Bitch, which lets her roll all the dice on the table.

In addition to these values, Smallvile the RPG heavily uses relationships – again, for example, Clark Kent is defined by his relationship to his parents and Lois Lane, while Lex Luthor is defined by his relationship to Clark Kent. This rule applies to all the characters and in short relationships replace skills. Clark gets a d6 for Luthor relationship, with the descriptive phrase Lex can never be trusted. This contrasts with Luthor, for whom Superman is an alien menace with d10.

Tasks are accomplished by rolling dice determined by the right combination of the value and relationship. So in dealing with Lex Luthor, Clark rolls d10 for his since of justice and d6 for his distrust of the man. When he deals with Clark, Luthor a rolls d10 for power and d10 for his antipathy for the Emo of Steel. Much of the game – as presented by this book – resolves around emotional, rather than physical, conflicts handled by these kinds of dice rolls.

Perhaps the most innovative aspect of Smallville the RPG is the collaborative nature of character, plot and world creation. A large sheet of paper is placed on the table and the players and GM write on the paper characters, places and even things. Examples from the early seasons of the Smallville series include Clark Kent, Lana Lang, Lex Luthor, the Barn on the Kent Farm, the Luthor Fertilizer Factory, Lana’s Kryptonite necklace and porn mags Clark kept under his bed. Anyway, between these points, the GM and the players draw lines that define relationships, such as like, dislike, deadly, mysterious and so forth.

Diagrams of personal relationship in the Smallville RPG are good but start to take on tones of what you may find scribbled in the notebook of a high school girl, who likes who, who hates who, who is dating who, and so forth. Even so, it is commendable for the way it makes everyone in the game involved and responsible for world creation.

Smallville the RPG also does an excellent job of presenting a frame work for games modeled on the narrative structure of a TV show, such as scenes, episodes and story arcs for a season.

Perhaps ironically the books devotion to Smallville the show – the very reason this game exists – is actually the books biggest drawback and failure.

Too much of the book is too closely tied to the Smallville TV program to be of use to anyone who is not interested in the show. Large sections of the book – not even counting the capture art from the show – are given to lengthy descriptions of episodes, seasons, characters and so forth. This seriously undermines the utility of the book, especially as time goes on.

To some degree, all role-playing games are rooted in facilitating a desire to run around in another world. Fans of Lovecraft created the Call of Cthulhu game, Star Wars has seen a number of RPG adaptations and the earliest forms of D&D were deeply rooted in the worlds of Robert E. Howard, J.R.R. Tolkeen and Michael Moorcock, among others. There are also a number of superhero RPGs.

As such, making an RPG adaptation of something popular is part of the hobby and has always has been. However, Smallville as an RPG was and is quickly dated – the game book came out during final season of the show, as the ratings had been declining and while an excellent adaptation, is it also thoroughly niche. To get full use out of this book, you really have to be a die-hard fan of the program as about half of the book is inseparable from the show. As time goes on, that becomes increasingly unlikely. As such, as time goes on the fun and relevancy of the book will continue to decline as genre fans move on to the new popular thing. Whatever the new popular thing might be.

Because of this, I give Smallville, the RPG a 10 on a d20 roll. The book is well designed and the innovative parts that can be separated from the show are quite good, but too much of the book is devoted to something already dated… and which is only becoming more dated as time goes on. If you still have a mad on for the show, then get this book, otherwise do not bother unless you can get it second hand.

[3 of 5 Stars!]
Smallville Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/09/2011 06:46:08

It is incredibly rare to see what can honestly be described as unique. Really a lot of RPGs on the market are simply twists on a common theme and the rules sets aren't revolutionary. Enter 'Smallville'. Smallville's genius lies in a number of elements that I have not seen replicated in other systems. Firstly, there is the collaborative nature of character creation. I've always argued that this step of getting a group together should be done -as a group- and 'Smallville' makes it mandatory. The reason for this is the second point of brilliance - the whole game is hinged on relationships, and it makes perfect sense. In the DC Universe, relationships make the stories more engaging, and importantly they make superheroes more human. The way in which all of these heroes relate to the people around them builds drama, creates plot and drives character development. 'Smallville' give you the tools to make the way a character relates to their own group, and the wider world actually matter.

Want to take on Superman in his Fortress of Solitude? Fine, but he feels confident enough to have a home ground advantage, and the rules reflect this. Has Oliver Queen had an argument with Dinah? Will this play on his mind and knock off his aim in the next crucial combat? You bet. Will Clarke show mercy to Zod because he believes he can be redeemed? Definitely.

The one point I cannot over-emphasise is how good their social rules truly are. The character creation builds on the relationships with other team members (and a slightly larger cast too) and is extremely open-ended. The players imaginations fill in the 'white space' that the rules-set calls for, and the game mechanics give the players the opportunity to let their creativity really kick in. However, as this is intrinsically group-based, you will need to invest at least one evening of play into the character creation process. It cannot be rushed if you expect this game to pay dividends.

If your group likes team play they need to give this game a go. Make everyone read through the main rulebook, as it contains lots of good advice about playing as a team. It is one of the few books that I've seen that gives explicit advice on how to be a team player and how to give the spotlight to other people in your group. Furthermore, it gives advice on supporting the success of other players - something I've not seen before.

The last point that you need to consider is that the game supports multi-power-level play. It can accommodate Jimmy Olsen, Lois, Green Arrow and Superman in a single party - each person has skills and advantages which are unique and the relationships forged by all the characters give them all a reason to be and something positive to contribute.

Bottom line - this is an exciting game with plenty of creative opportunities. Even if you aren't a fan of the show, or of the DC Universe, pick this book up just based on how good the system is.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Smallville Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Erathoniel W. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/08/2010 17:30:58

The Cortex system performs well, but there are times when the Smallville Roleplaying Game just seems to miss the point.

Sure, the point is to put superheroic figures together, but my gripe isn't with the fact that you can wind up throwing a lot of dice.

Character creation is horribly difficult. Weaving a web with lots of players will wind up being difficult if people have too strong an opinion about their characters, and then you have to worry about diluting the player's vision and potentially giving them a character they don't want (or know how) to play. Couple that in with a long, lengthy character creation, and if someone decides that they want to change their concept, a lot of that work will be down the drain.

Don't get me wrong, it's written well, but it's maybe overly ambitious, and my pretty much only gripe is with character creation, but it's just a lotta headache to even get started.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Smallville Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Devon K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/12/2010 20:00:03

This book is my first exposure to the Cortex system. And to Smallville. At times, I did find some of the references to be over my head, as they referenced situations and characters from the show. But that didn't take away from my understanding of the system. This system is very broad and allows you to do so much! The structure actually makes the system feel MORE free and loose. I'm very excited to port these rules over to other TV shows and settings. The layout is excellent and makes for a very easy read. The only issue I had was that the font seemed a bit small when viewing full screen, but that's an extremely minor issue. There's so much I love about the Cortex Plus system as presented in this book. The ability to pull on an opposing character's injuries and add that to your roll? Genius. I highly recommend this book.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Smallville Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Thomas P. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/13/2010 12:02:38

The Smallville cortex system is highly original, and quite genius if you are familiar with story structure. It may look a bit over complicated at first (relationship charts) but it's not at all, just different. The rules are very flexible and heavily story driven.

The layout is excellent, plenty of examples and pictures. This system can be applied to any superhero movie or TV show in the past. (I've already made up "The Flash" series of characters.) The character creation system is top notch.

I also like how they included rules for playing this game with your friends over the internet. (something I still do to this day.)

If your looking to count squares to see if your in range to use a weapon, while tracking your ammo.. this game isn't for you. If you are looking to develop meaningful characters with rich background and motivations, then this is the best system out there. If your a fan of the series.. this is a no brainer.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Smallville Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/01/2010 16:52:32

So what is the deal with Smallville anyway? It is and isn't Cortex. Smallville uses the new "Cortex Plus" system.

The biggest thing is the character development which according to the book will take your first session. Now let me pause here a bit. I loves me some character creation. I have pages of character notes on D&D characters and that is not counting what I have on characters for other systems. So I can dig this sort of interactive character development, but will everyone else? This feels rather indie for a mainstream license. I am going to roll with it all the same and see what it does for me.

Now this new interactive character development does pose one issue; you need to have a really good idea of what you want your series to do and who is going to be in it.

So how is it different? Well. There are no abilities or skills. How much stronger is Clark than Chloe? Don't know. Is Lex smarter than Brainiac? No idea. But it doesn't matter either. Clark and Chloe are not going to be arm wrestling and Lex and Brainiac are not going to be playing Trivial Pursuit against each other. But what we do have is how do Clark's actions affect Chloe, or Lois, or Lex. How can he do what he feels is right. So instead of Attribute + Skill +/- Assets we have Drives (Values + Relationships) + Assets. You are still using the Step Die methods from the previous version of Cortex, just in a new way.

So what are these? Well Drives are what motivate you or your character. The first set are called Values. Thes are Duty, Glory, Justice, Love, Power and Truth. Each of these gets a die and a defining statement. If we go with the idea of setting a game in a theoretical "Season 5" (the default power level) then we can provide some examples.

We have Drives in Values and they affect your Relationships. The player characters are called Leads and the NPCs are "features" (though I like Guest Stars better) and how they relate to each other, friend, enemy and lover alike, are called Relationships. These are mutable obviously. These are also ranked with a die and description. Relationships work out best when discussed with the other players. It looks like the die value's don't have to be equal, so Clark has a d10 listed for Chloe in the book, but Chloe has a d12 for Clark. This matches reality really; not all relationships are equal.

Relationships can be with other Leads or Features (PCs and NPCs). You also can have Resources, people or things you can call on to do things.

Assets are the closest to what you could describe as "Powers" or "Qualities". In my quick read over of the rules these seemed to be the most similar to Classic Cortex. Clark has things like Super-Strength and the like. But these again are more descriptive and are not a measure of his strength per se but rather a measurement of what using his Super-Strength means to the show and to the characters around him. If an asset is not here then adding one is not too difficult really.

All of this though is designed around the interpersonal relationships the character have with each other. It is an interesting focus for a game to be honest, and one that leads itself to certain level of tinkering. Think about it for a bit, you could take any group of characters and provide a "Cortex Plus" sheet for them as well. They would have their powers, skills and other details in Assets and then you focus on the interpersonal dynamics.

The game rules are similar to Cortex in terms of combat and skill resolution.

The system is very different and has a lot to offer all players, and not just fans of the show.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Smallville Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by H. M. L. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/04/2010 04:44:36

The Smallville RPG is a concise and well-written game. The rules are based on Margaret Weis Productions' Cortex System, but in a heavily modified form, designed to suit the 'soap-operatic' style of the source material.

In the Smallville game, characters are described not by 'stats' and 'skills', but by Drives -- Values such as Truth, Justice, and Love; and by Relationships -- the connections between the PCs (called Leads) and the NPCs (called Features). These are rated by a die code d4 through d12, and a descriptive phrase. When a character acts, two dice are rolled -- one for the Drive that motivates the action, and one for the Relationship that is most affected by the action. Why your character chooses to act is at least as important as the action he or she chooses to take.

Everything else about a character; personality quirks, skills, talents, superhuman abilities, gear, locations, minions, etc. are treated as additional dice that can apply to rolls. This handles the plethora of different resources character might call upon in a straightforward and elegant manner. A meta-currency, called Plot Points, is earned by adversity (sometimes self-inflicted adversity) and spent on Special Effects or to activate stunt-like abilities.

Many of those abilities add or subtract dice from the Trouble pool -- a pool of dice used by the GM to represent any difficulties faced by the players which do not emanate from fully-statted-out NPCs. This gives the ebb and flow of tension during an 'episode' a tangible representation on the table. As the Trouble pool gets larger, you can easily imagine the soundtrack of the episode swelling toward a climax!

Physically, the pdf is beautiful to behold, and very readable. The latest version includes a full set of bookmarks for easy navigation. Colored text is used throughout to emphasize the special vocabulary used by the game, and illustrations are plentiful and thematic. The art is primarily stills from the show, which makes it very easy on the eyes. The text presents plenty of ideas and techniques that will be new to many readers, but it does so in a comfortable style; neither too erudite nor too chatty. The books' one flaw in my opinion is the lack of a one-sheet summary or flow-chart of the Test and Contest rules, and a one-sheet summary of the Plot Point rules.

The chapters on character creation and campaign creation (the two activities are done side-by-side) include the best description of how to create a Relationship Map that I have seen in any gaming product. The chapter on how to create episodes scene by scene that develop from that map is the best description of how to use a Relationship Map that I have ever seen. These chapters alone are worth the price of the book to any GM who wants to learn to use more 'cinematic' pacing in his or her games.

The Smallville RPG is ideal for re-creating the type of adventure and melodrama that characterizes the Smallville TV show, of course, but it has a lot to offer gamers who are not Smallville fans as well: The rules can be tweaked with minimal effort to produce play in the spirit of virtually any TV drama, past or present. This system has already become my go-to system for TV-inspired roleplaying -- with or without 'superpowers'. I recommend it to anyone who wants to give 'relationship drama' roleplaying a shot.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Smallville Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Thomas B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/26/2010 09:35:05

The Bad: Not "bad", per se, but it's definitely outside of the "traditional" comfort zone. There is no index, and I've become spoiled with bookmarked PDFs, which this lacks. The "Growth Pool" rules are a tad confusing for me. The Good: Beautiful production, TONS of examples, lots of flexibility for expanding it however you like. For a more detailed review:

[5 of 5 Stars!]
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