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Capital of the Borderlands (revised edition)
by Nathan H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/11/2022 09:20:22

Excellent pre-built city for old school games (of any stripe), but specifically built for ACKs with all the crunchy but very easy to use coherent rules & worldbuilding you'd expect from Autarch. Not just a "dry" city, either - there's a dozen or more "mini-adventures" woven into its fabric, enough for an urban focused mini-campaign that also ties into the local area and it's politics with good hooks to the Auran Empire Borderland of default ACKs but also very easy to "plug and play" elsewhere or into homebrew.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Capital of the Borderlands (revised edition)
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Ascendant: Star-Spangled Squadron
by Jonathan S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/27/2022 23:48:21

I want to start this review by saying I’m not generally a reader of comics or graphic novels. I helped in the crowdfunding of this project because of the Ascendant RPG that came out first.

I found the “Star Spangled Squadron” to be thoroughly enjoyable. It is interesting that this medium can’t cover as much ground as the traditional novel where I have greater experience. There is only room for a handful of scenes which perhaps require a simpler plot. I will say, though, that the plot was solid and well sculpted. Nothing felt contrived or cheesy and every action bristled with consequence. Because of the limitations of space, each word must strike home and in this story they do. Likewise, I am amazed by the level of character depth that Macris achieved.

I found with great surprise that I enjoyed every member of the squadron. I missed that level of depth in the villains, but I imagine that is the price of being forced to such brevity. Hopefully as more issues follow, we’ll learn about them, too. But back to the heroes... while there is a natural draw to American Eagle I found that Warp was actually my favorite. He had a sharp wit and easy personality that cracked me up. American Eagle was the worthy hero I expected and hoped for. These days there seems to be little interest in solid family men with good morals so this was refreshing to see. He isn’t perfect, but you sense each failure only drives him to try harder. For the guys, Stronghold was fun but he was the least developed off the group. I’m looking forward to learning more about him in the future.

From watching interviews on Youtube, I had a conception of where the story was going with Stiletto and it delivered. While I would be categorized as someone who was less comfortable with her style of dress, I found her character to be very engaging. The two things that I thought were particularly cool were her healthy (as opposed to unhealthy) skepticism and, even more, the fact that she really is a heroine. This is hidden beneath her hardened exterior, but I always had the sense that she truly was trying to protect those around her even when she pretended indifference. The true power of this story is in the poignant dichotomy between her and American Eagle. I’d like to delve into this more but it would give too much away.

I was stunned that I liked Aurora, but I really did. She plays the bimbo, but that’s all a front for a very clever mind that made for a great character. I was also surprised to find that I liked Dr. Quantum. Most authors write brainy characters to be obnoxious. They’re often hollow calculators with no soul underneath. Not so, Dr. Quantum. Her personality burst out of the pages. She also had my favorite sound effect. Quaaaaaaaaaaaum!

This review focuses on character, but the plot as I mentioned was also very solid. The themes were poignant as well, though I really can’t discuss them without giving story away. A worthy read.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ascendant: Star-Spangled Squadron
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Ascendant
by Wayne V. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/27/2022 19:02:57

I'm sure this is a comprehensive RPG system, but I've found it very hard to read and get my head around. For me, it's like reading software code. The text could use some serious editing, and it's enough for me to wonder how this title got the 5 star rating it had when I bought it. I won't be introducing it to my gaming group.

I felt from the drawings of scantily clad women in the book, it wasn't aiming for a mixed audience.

I much prefer the recently published Absolute Power, or Mutants and Masterminds. I would suggest people look elsewhere for a superhero RPG.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Ascendant
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Ascendant Preview
by Paul M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/13/2022 17:03:27

Rules are an over thought mess of miniscule situations needing specialized rules. The game says it's a physics based RPG but the author clearly doesn't understand physics.

Setting is conservative pandering with every comics gate trope thrown into a bowl and stirred until its flavorless and boring in it's predictability. Designed only to shock and get that reactionary following.

And the author has unopologetic dealings with people universally ostracized for every kind of bigotry you can think of.

Astroturfing is the only reason this product and this author has achieved anything. They literally faked it until they made it.

If you need anymore proof the author and previous projects are banned from RPG.net

Even just having read the preview I feel like I should be reimbursed for the full products cost.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Ascendant Preview
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Ascendant
by Mark C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/04/2022 21:23:49

Firstly and most importantly, let's deal with the actual gameplay. Ascendant plays great - it's fast, smooth, and can handle plenty of characters without getting bogged down in the details. It uses a d100 system (with a very few cases where other dice are used), and charts and tables rather than directly rolling for damage. Character design is extremely flexible, and not too difficult to master - although you will want to make use of spreadsheet software rather than doing it by hand.

When it comes to the design of the PDF... it's beautiful. The artwork (and there's a lot of it) is first rate, and the layout is very clean, with everything nicely colour-coded and easy to read. Not quite sure how so much information was squeezed into so few pages (I mean, yes it's 500 pages, but it feels like it should be a lot more), but at any rate, it's impressive.

All in all, 10/10 for both mechanics and presentation.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ascendant
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Ascendant
by Jacob H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/04/2022 19:54:14

I like crunch in a system, and at first glance I thought "hmm might get bogged down too much" but as my familiarity with the system grows it goes faster and faster. Ascendant hits an absolute sweet spot of intuitive + crunch without feeling like it is sacrificing either.

You can stat pretty much anything you can think of with very few exceptions. The benchmarks provided make things easy to stat out and a quick reference when someone wants to throw a mack truck at a crowd. I have seen very few things in comic books that I couldn't do in this game.

Been running a weekly game for a couple weeks at this point and have statted up a half dozen characters and it keeps getting easier.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ascendant
by Jordan M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/04/2022 15:47:43

The image that comes to mind when most people hear "Simulates the physics of a comic-book world" is one of a book that is impossibly complex, full of math that no one would want to use at their table, and reduces the amazing and fantastical worlds to something dull. Almost like a physics textbook. The brilliant mind behind ASCENDANT has managed to make sure that's not the case. Not only is the action as high paced and spectacular as any comic book, the actual play is as smooth of a system as I've ever seen. ASCENDANT addresses the common criticism of effects-based games by grounding every effect in the physical reality of the world, such that a fire blast and a cryoblast are equally easy to run but do distinct things both in the direct resolution of the blast and in what kind of other abilities you can Power Stunt off of them. It's a game where meticulous care was taken when choosing the baseline numbers so that the actual play consideration of things like, "How much damage do I do when I throw a car at an enemy" are effortless to adjudicate, and the tools dedicated to answering various Saving the World questions like "How do I disarm a bomb", "How do I deal with a natural disaster", and the classic, "How do I stop a meteor that's hurtling towards the earth" are robust, easy to follow, and rapidly become second nature for any GM or player. Important to understand is that while there are rules for most things, it is so that if you want a consistent answer that fits into this well crafted system, you don't need to be able to pull the system apart and understand all of the underlying maths to get an answer, Alexander has already done the work for you in most fields that will matter. Your game might never wonder what the relative difference in pungency of wine is versus garlic, but in a courtly intrigue game with someone with supernatural senses, these questions might come up. They say that what you dedicate the most rules space to is what your game is actually about, and with the amount of space dedicated to high quality rules for powers and superheroics, it's plain to see that ASCENDANT is the next best contender in the Super Heroic Gaming legacy.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ascendant
by Dirk M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/04/2022 15:37:51

Just gave this a spin with my group for our final session of 2021, and we REALLY liked it.

It looked complicated at first, but actually it's not a hard game to learn. The core mechanic is simple enough: AV + Hero Points vs DV + Hero Points = RV. Check that RV on the CHART, and roll a d100 to see what color result you get. Once we had that down it was very fast to use in play--by the end of the night a round of combat was going as fast as D&D, and we've spent years using d20 systems.

We thought the SPs lining up with real-world numbers was cool. I like to run more simulationist-style campaigns in general, and my players like the idea of being able to see what the heroes they made would actually be capable of rather than just me riffing the results. The section on non-combat challenges looks like a very usable and thorough reference for me as the GM, though I haven't used it much yet (the first session was mostly combat to get the hang of the system).

I liked that the system has both a simple and complex method of character creation. Half my group just sent me a concept and wanted me to make their PC for them since it was a new system, and the other two are the kind who enjoy the process of chargen as much as they do playing the game. (One of them is a recovering D&D 3.5 minmaxer.) I found character creation a bit complicated but was able to knock it out reasonably quickly with the simple method. The two players I mentioned said they had a good time diving through all the powers and perks and planning out their character designs--they liked the variety of powers and different ways to tweak them. Also important to me as the GM was that the complex method of chargen didn't mean that their characters were out of place in the same campaign as the ones I built with the simple method.

(Aside: the reviewer who said that the rules are complex and chargen is easy--are you reading the same book as I am? That's the complete opposite of what I found.)

The layout is solid and easy to follow, with good presentation of rules, examples, and designer notes. I see some other reviewers saying the art is over sexualized, but it doesn't seem to be out of place with what's in most modern comics. It definitely isn't "G" rated though, and if buying the book for a younger gamer I'd recommend checking out the preview first.

Overall a STRONG recommendation, 5/5. My group really enjoyed Ascendant and wants to keep using it.

Update: My group has run multiple sessions of Ascendant at this point, and it continues to shine. Using the SP system has become second nature for just about every member of our group and it works exceedingly well.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ascendant
by Karl G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/04/2022 13:42:43

Amazing. Brilliant mechanics. Once you digest the mechanics, it's wonderful when you realize how everything works together, how everything is interlinked and interconnected with the awesome supermetric system. The supermetric system and its benchmarks make it incredibly easy to process the crunch of the system, so gameplay is smooth and fast. Takes under 10 seconds to determine the difficulty of any task, from the time to investigate a crime scene to throwing a party member at an enemy flying away to catch them, and you roll against a table, and it's resolved easily. It's beautiful.

Even now I have dozens of possible character ideas that can be easily realized in the system. The best part is how you can conceivably transplant it in almost any setting too. It's incredible. Buy it- you won't regret it.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ascendant
by Sullivan B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/04/2022 13:25:01

Ascendant is a great game, with crunch in the right places. As others have said, the bits that take a while are all front-loaded into character generation, and session time, whether actual combat, investigation, or other actions, is always simple to resolve mechanically. compare the number for the power/attack being used to the opposed value or the magnitude of the problem, adjust for extraordinary effort being used on either side (hero points), roll d100, consult the chart to see if the action was successful and by how much. In my experience it's very easy for a player to sit down for a session with very little knowledge of the system and still make decisions. for example, a player can decide to focus on putting out a fire instead of attacking the villain, and the GM can just present the information as "the fire is X strong, your power is Y strong, that means it will take X-Y=Z time to put it out, which you can halve by using a hero point". in play, you get used to this very quickly. one thing i particularly like about ascendant is the rules for power stunts. it's good to encourage people to be creative in RPGs; it's also good to have rule framework for how much getting creative should cost, lest someone put one power on their sheet and play like they have 5 other free powers. ascendant starts by asking the GM the unavoidable question of whether or not a given stunt is plausible: light control might easily stunt into heat control, but not into teleportation, for example. if a stunt is permitted, the cost of doing so increases the further the stunted power is from the base power: someone who shoots lightning might be able to stunt into throwing bolts around corners or into reprogramming robots with his lightning, but the latter will cost more points to do. broad control powersets have an advantage here in reduced costs to stunt. someone who is merely super strong is capable of occasionally creating a sonic blast by clapping their hands; if they want to do so regularly, though, they'd be best advised to actually have that power, or else they'll be expending their hero points awfully quick.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ascendant
by Glen B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/04/2022 10:46:59

Its obsession with detailing every possible mechanical interaction creates a horrendous bogged-down mess. While it claims to be "Physics based" it's really just an extremely complex effects based system. I can't imagine actually wanting to run or play this, every little thing would require looking up values on tables and unnecessary formulas.

For example: People can passively smell things at a range determined by: Ranks in Ultra-Sensitive Scent + Weight of Odorant + Pungency SP - 10 - SP of Cover or Obscurity. There are tables to look up the Pungency of various oderants, and the weight of various items.

Why? In what possible world is this a fun or engaging exercise to do in a super hero game? And on top of that, Ultra-Sensitive Scent is a weirdly expensive power, costing more than twice as much as hearing and even more than vision. Because apparently Ascendant thinks that being able to smell a dead body from a thousand feet away is worth 40 points (an amount the game claims should double your overall power level), which is cheaper than getting vision capable of seeing 8192 times better than normal.

Ultimately, Ascendant is a book for people who are obsessed with every tiny detail of the world being simulated in the rules. If you want to play an actual game, I'd suggest checking out one of the many other superhero options.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Ascendant
by WGA R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/22/2022 06:42:29

Like most older gamers, I've been around the block a few times with regard to preferences. I went through a "D&D and nothing else" phase, a Traveller phase, a White Wolf phase, a "buckets of dice" phase, a Fate phase... pretty much everything since the early 90s.

One theme I seem to come back to again and again is granularity. For me, a major test of a system is how well it can distinguish between two things that are relevant during play. Some systems barely even consider granularity, some go to extraordinary extremes and some try to strike a balance between narrative and granularity that can sometimes overwhelm matters. Few games get the balance perfect (Ars Magica, maybe?) but that's not really what's important; not the balance between narrative and granularity of simulation, but getting the granularity right for what the game is actually trying to achieve. Take Fading Suns as an example. While it has a deservedly legendary setting, the game system has long been considered a little weak due to a failure to manage the dizzying variation of things that the setting can potentially contain; a game can go from dirt-ridden peasants to wild space opera in moments and the system simply does not facilitate this. Sticking with nobility, King Arthur: Pendragon is the opposite, matching its highly specific knight-driven granularity to its equally knight-driven setting, and KAP is all the better for that focus.

Ascendant, then, is a game designed to model the wildly variable granularity of the superhero genre. And while I will admit I am a fan of the author's B/X-derived Adventurer, Conqueror, King System (ACKS), I have never been a fan of supers RPGs. Partly this is because every time I have played in a "supers" game - whether that be in an explicitly Superhero-type game like M&M or a related genre like Exalted or Scion - I have always had the sensation that I mention above; that the game system does not properly model the kind of potentiality of which its protagonists should be capable. There have been many, many attempts, but every one I've played or even read tends to fall a bit flat. As usual, Autarch deliver in this regard, and as usual they do so by taking something to its logical extreme. In ACKS this is done by creating an explicitly complex system of economic models and domain management, then letting the players loose on it. In Ascendant this is taken a step further into outright mathematical modelling as game system, and the game explicitly references logarithms in its Introduction chapter; indeed, you could probably use this thing to teach teens how logs work. And within context, this focus works excellently. Explicit conversions of real-world physics to the system are referenced throughout the books to facilitate the modelling of eg catching a falling bus full of passengers. It's not The Boys-style "real supers" stuff (lifting a building is actually possible, for example, as is righting a plane's flightpath) but rather comic book action modelled with simulated physics; even the mundane objects in the game are modelled with the same system as superpowers rather than having a separate system, so an assault rifle unleashes a "Rapid Fire Penetrating Blast" and a pair of binoculars has "Limited FOV Telescopic Vision". Since everything is modelled using logarithms, a few extra points in attribute scores above human norms produces a drastic change in capability; the strongest man in the world may have MIG 6 and can deadlift a horse, but a hero with MIG 9 can deadlift an truck without much effort. And two phenomena with the same value are explicitly equivalent, so a hero with Telekinesis 9 can also deadlift a truck with their mind. The result seems destined to produce what TVTropes would call Crowning Moments of Awesome once players realise the potential of the tools in their hands. Add this to the dizzyingly broad array of character creation options and you have a recipe for something that can be either gonzo to the point of cartoon absurdity or an operation of gritty operational operators.

I have a few minor issues. The Power Level system, while clearly a necessary evil, creates a scenario of finnicky tweaks to try to maximise output within a given Character Point total; I go with the Basic PL approach just to avoid having players endlessly revising things. There are a few "trap choices", albeit the book does make an effort to flag them up; some "powers" are basically subsets of what you'd get just by enhancing a basic Attribute to higher levels. And almost every player I've shown this to has immediately descended into spectacular decision paralysis regarding the immense selection of Powers on offer, along with the wide field of modifiers and weaknesses and metapowers and... well, you get the idea. Combinatory complexity taken to an extreme provides the granularity I like, but it also presents a cliff to those who don't already have a very clear idea of what they want to play. It's both a strength and a weakness, since once they enter the game's mindset they quickly realise they can play anything; and the Control power sets provide a convenient and easy way to build a much simpler kind of superhero with a set of connected abilities centred around a single theme. On a connected note, the game contains a narrativistic subsystem in the form of Power Stunts; and while this is a welcome and useful sideline to the mathematical rigidity of the rest of the system, it has been my experience that it is not immediately obvious to players that this is a part of the game. Control power sets, again, provide a good way to introduce these to players.

If these criticisms seem like the review equivalent of saying "I sometimes work too hard" when asked for one's weaknesses in an interview, that speaks to the quality of the game. The PDF is well laid out and has decent bookmarking (still inexplicably rare, even in this day and age!), and has an index with sub-contextual notes. Copious example characters round out the book, and while I am aware this is something of a tradition in the supers genre I find myself wondering why more RPGs don't do this. The art is suitably garish and OTT, evoking the four-colour madness the game is designed to replicate, as does the red, white and blue colour palette. As an additional benefit, the PDF comes packaged with a suite of character sheets and even a character generation spreadsheet with instructions! It's not a perfect character generator, but it works well enough to get to grips with the game.

All told this is one of my best purchases of recent years and one of the few recent games I've seriously considered picking up in print - probably only the lack of a hardback option on DTRPG has stopped me. Autarch is going from strength to strength and having seen the wide range of ACKS supplements, I can't wait to see what they produce for this system.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ascendant
by William M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/13/2022 16:05:08

I tend to collect RPG rules and settings, far more than I'd have time to play. This time though, I am looking forward to building a character and jumping in to a game. There's a growing Discord community that will make it easy to get stuck in and moving with the game! Can't wait!

This game is a top notch production that I think is on par with the current big names in the gaming industry. The production values are high and the result is impressive. Even my non-gamer family member says it's a beautiful book.

What I like most is the combination of the comic style - which takes me back to some great graphic novels of the 80s and 90s - combined with the ripped-from-the-headlines pacing of the introductory setting material. Reading the first 40 pages sets the stage for the inevitable moment of HELL YEAH! I want to play this game! Can't wait to get into the first session.

Some mechanical high points to follow - if you are one of those people like me who appreciate well organized products, this book is one of them.

  • The Table of Contents is comprehensive, useful, and unique. I've never seen one like it before, providing aspect of both Table of Contents as well as Index to list all of the Power Descriptions, Perks, Objects, etc.
  • The material is well laid out and easy to read
  • The text is crisp and legible, without a distracting page background underneath the text.
  • Possibly the book is the length it is, because the meat of it is NOT crammed into microscopic hard to read font sizes and tiny tables. It is really quite accessible from my perspective which is a good thing.

Let's get something out of the way and that is the comic book art style. It may not be for everyone and that's ok.

Prospective buyers should understand that this is a full-on comic book experience, not a slice of life manga, and the book unabashedly presents itself that way. What I mean is that if you are embarrased to be seen in public reading "in your face" comics or manga (I picture JoJo), you'll feel that way about this product too.

That being said, are the characters really drawn that much differently than what you'd find in today's older-teen graphic novels and manga or video games? No, this is pretty much on par with other similar products. And this is the right visual style for this game!

The quality of the art is excellent, the colors are vivid, it looks like it was taken directly from an existing mainstream comic, and I appreciate and enjoy the fact that the entire book is in color. There is a lot of distinctive artwork that sets the tone that this game really is about super-heroes and super-villains! It's for people who want to play comic-book style exaggerated men and women, who want to have super powers, kick ass and look good while doing it! The book, from what I have read so far, supports this in full.

There is an active Discord community full of supportive fans willing to jump in and help with any questions. This looks like the perfect environment for me (and hopefully for you reading this as well) to find a game and try this out.

Is this game "worth it?" The answer is a resounding "Yes" but of course you should check it out for yourself. I was one of the Kickstarter backers who received the hardback edition, which is amazing, and I bought a second paperback copy here from DTRPG to have on hand for my friends when we play.

Conclusion: Overall 5/5. So far can't complain! Looking forward to playing it!

Thanks for reading this, and hope to see you in a game!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ascendant
by Jason L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/13/2022 12:20:06

If you're looking for a crunchy superhero RPG system this should be your go-to book. The flexibility in creating your hero is outstanding. Let me give you my example.

I made a pretty standard telepath/telekinetic hero. Then I made a technology controlling hero whose body produced nanites. Then I thought of a cool hero name and combined those two characters with the Alternate Form perk to make Hivemind, a telepath/telekinetic who can discorporate his body into a cloud of nanites! How insanely cool is that? I haven't had a single idea that I couldn't figure out how to create with these rules.

The gameplay retains that level of flexibility and does so with a level of crunch that maybe goes too far. Let me give you an example.

A strong hero picking up something heavy and chucking it at bad guys is a common trope, right? Well, to do that you have to measure the object's height and weight in SPs which is a pretty easy conversion from pounds once you start to memorize the low values but might still require you to google the specs on a dumpster. Now you compare your Agility Score to your target's score but if they're behind a concrete barrier you have to do another calculation to determine the minimum defense value and then you roll to hit and compare that number to a chart. Then you deal damage based on the weight and the speed at which you threw it. What's the speed? As far as I can tell, the on'y place that's ever defined is in the example for throwing a dumpster on page 382. Take that number and compare it to another chart to get your damage. And that's all just for one bad guy getting hit dead on. If he has two buddies standing next to him there is a separate calculation for determining if they get hit.

And I get it. That's all very realistic. But the perfect is maybe the enemy of the good here. I'll be the first to admit I'm being a little unfair. I cherrypicked a complicated interaction (though probably not an uncommon one). Punching a bad guy is way simpler. Even the most complicated interaction in this game is less confusing than grappling in D&D 3.5 (though I'm setting a low bar there).

I've written and rewritten this final paragraph four times now trying to sum up my feelings. It's a very good character creation system. It's a very good simulation of physics. It's up to you whether you want to model that level of detail or play something more approachable.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ascendant
by David K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/09/2022 22:53:00

Built a talking dog who flies, solves crimes and shoots lasers out of his eyes, A+++



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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