The book opens with a comic strip showing a young girl, newly into 'delta' powers, fleeing pursuit and being rescued, a process that rapidly descends into a brawl in which she's by no means sure who is on her side - aptly setting the scene for a game which melds alternate history and comic book superheroics into a fascinating if grim reality in which America is no longer the 'Land of the Free'... at least, not if you have superpowers.
Still in character, this moves on to facsimile web pages of an underground site called DeltaTimes, a place for those superpowered individuals who do not wish to cooperate with a fascist state to hang out. Taking the premise that the readers are newly come into their superpowers and are trying to figure everything out, the articles here give a lowdown (accurate as far as the game goes, if anarchistic in approach) about what it means to be a 'delta' or superpowered individual in this setting. So an excellent and immersive introduction to an alternate history that begins with the first delta arising on the battlefields of the First World War, superheroes flourishing during the interwar years, World War 2 being quite different with superhero involvement from the get-go, McCarthy chasing deltas as avidly as he did Communists, and finally a new twist on the 1963 Kennedy assassination where JFK survived but his wife did not, leading to repressive laws requiring deltas to register and cooperate with government... and worse, as subsequently Kennedy declared martial rule and continued to govern as a dictator to the present day.
Chapter 1: What You Need to Know cracks the fourth wall with the usual information about what a role-playing game is and how you play one. It's written in a casual style that explains the basics without sounding patronising. It also covers the roles of playing and Guide (the Game Master ) and says that only d6s are used... but a whole bunch of them.
Next comes Chapter 2: What It Takes to be a Hero. This deals with character creation, and takes you through the process in a logical manner, highlighting the need to know who your character is and what makes him tick as he is more than numbers on a page... but those numbers are important so it explains what they all are by reference to the character sheet. Characters are described in game mechanical terms by traits, skills, quirks and powers. Traits are the basic statistics of smarts, speed, spirit and strength. Human average in these is 2, but as you can imagine deltas often exceed that... the number assigned is the number of dice you roll when using that trait. Each trait has a number of skills - things you've actually learned or been trained in - associated with them. Quirks are the little things that bring a character to life, and powers are - as you might imagine - whatever superpowers your character has. OK, all that explained we then get down to the fine detail of how you actually make a character. Two options are presented: use an archetype or build one from scratch. If you are new to the game or in a rush, using an archetype gets you started with a minimum of fuss as all the number-crunching and selections have been done for you. Building one from scratch lets you have a delta that's really yours, even if it takes longer.
If you are building your own character, you start by distributing Trait Points as you please between the four traits. You have 12 to play with, enough to have an above-average 3 in each... or you may wish to boost one or more at the expense of the others. For every point assigned to a trait, you have 3 points to spend on skills associated with that trait. Quirks can be positive or negative: a positive one costs you points you might have spent on skills whilst a negative one gives you extra points... or you may prefer to balance out positive and negative quirks instead. There's a limit of 10 points-worth of negative quirks for playability reasons, but you can have as many positive ones as you are prepared to pay for! Next you pick superpowers which are organised in bundles called packages to give some coherence, rather than just selecting a random assortment of cool powers that do not really fit together. This all explained, there's a two-page quick reference guide to the process. A blank character sheet and a selection of archetypes are followed by several chapters that present skills, quirks, powers and tricks - signature knacks your character has - in great detail.
Next, Chapter 3: The Basic Mechanic, lays out in detail the core game mechanics. Task resolution is based around a single roll, the number of dice used being based on character capabilities, against a target number set by the Guide or an opponent as applicable. The target number gets higher the harder the task is deemed to be to accomplish. It's all quite straightforward, although it places a lot of responsibility on the Guide to set realistic yet achievable targets in order to present sufficient challenge yet keep the story rolling.
The next chapter goes into considerable detail about the skills available, including how to use them and likely target numbers for common uses of each skill. This is followed by a chapter on quirks and how to use them to present a well-rounded character - there's plenty of material here to empower good role-play, although contributions to game mechanics are also signposted clearly.
Then Chapter 6: The Big Throwdown takes a look at combat within the game. It's interesting that this comes before superpowers, but this section looks at the mechanics of brawling - initiatives, combat rounds, actions and so on - rather than every last thing that you might do during a fight, so if you pick a power package that has elements which are useful for brawling (or even designed for doing harm) you will be able to see how and when you will be able to use them within the context of the combat mechanics. Other ways to get hurt and healing are also covered here.
This is followed by Chapter 7: Tricks of the Trade, which explores a wide array of tricks - special things that you can do if you get a LOT of successes on your roll, well in excess of the target number you were aiming at. Here's the opportunity to be spectacular and cinematic. Characters start out knowing three tricks, and can acquire more later on in the game. Most tricks are related to a particular skill, so can only be used when you have that skill and are doing something which utilises it, but there are others which are more general in application as well as ones which, although associated with a particular skill, can be taken and used even if you have not been trained in that skill.
And now at last we get to the really important bit - Chapter 8: What Makes a Delta a Delta. Here superpowers are discussed, and you get to find out what power packages are available. Up til now, everything can be applied equally to a regular human being as to a superpowered one, which is good on two points. Firstly, it shows that deltas are no different from anyone else except as regards their powers, and secondly it ensures that all characters are well-rounded PEOPLE, not a set of powers with a mere glimmering of personality tacked on! It also makes it easy, if you wanted to, to play a regular human - perhaps one which might develop powers later in the game or who works with deltas helping to keep them safe from malign forces in government or elsewhere. There are notes on how to develop your own power packages and the promise that there will be more available in supplements, but the main thrust here is a detailed analysis of the options available.
We're almost ready to go, but Chapter 9: Things Every Hero Needs ensures that characters have all the equipment and other possessions that they need. Costs are based on real-world prices for everything that actually exists, which makes it easy if your character wants something not listed here.
The final part of the player section is Chapter 10: Liberty or Death. This is concerned with the setting and how it relates to characters who are deltas. Scene set, we move on to GM territory, taking the view that people will only ever play or GM this game. Obviously you can only do one at a time, but in many groups people take turns to run the next game so it is difficult to be hard and fast about GM knowledge. This section, however, covers how to organise and run your game rather than revealing any dark secrets, although the next two chapters do reveal things that characters would not know (at least, not when they start out...). The main secret's a biggie... but you'll have to find it out for yourself! There's also some bad guys and other NPCs to round things off.
Overall, it's a fascinating premise repleat with potential, setting and mechanics rolled up into a tidy package that is well suited to those who would like a superhero game with a difference, a core purpose beyond beating up on any passing supervillain.
[5 of 5 Stars!]