Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.-
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!]