Comic books and their heroes are enjoying a new golden age of visibility and popularity. Anchored by Hollywood’s commitment to comic book films (and the reams of cash those movies generate), the spandex-clad characters I grew up reading about are now splashed across every website and magazine dedicated to pop culture or film.
For someone who endured years of ostracization for loving these characters and the fantastic worlds they inhabited, it’s refreshing to see them burst into mainstream culture like this. But what’s even better about this cultural embrace of geekdom and all the hobbies (and heroes) that were marginalized when I was younger is that products based on them are becoming more ubiquitous.
Merchandise, video games, and, best of all, tabletop games based on the Marvel and DC universes or other comic canons are more readily available than ever, and finding an RPG to match your superhero fantasies is now a simple matter of browsing Amazon or hitting your local Barnes & Noble. These are some of the most interesting and versatile that you can grab right now.
#Champions is one of the granddaddies of superhero role-playing, and it has endured for a reason. It’s one of the most complicated RPGs around, period, and that means that it allows for an incredible level of detail and customization when dreaming up characters, their abilities, and the world they inhabit. It’s also one of the most versatile systems available, with rules (and supplements) that accommodate almost any kind of heroic role-playing, or any unique universe, players can imagine.
Based on the massive #HEROsystem, Champions presents a slightly leaner version of those rules tailored specifically for superheroes and their antagonists. It’s a fantastic compendium of powers, gear and tropes that’s presented in clear language, and helpfully illustrated by a number of examples that new players will welcome.
Mutants and Masterminds
#MutantsAndMasterminds is another venerable RPG, and its basis in the Open Game License means that anyone familiar with a D20 RPG will feel immediately at home with M&M. It’s specifically tailored to be open, flexible and accessible, and will provide newcomers and veterans alike all the tools required to imagine and create settings and heroes to match their wildest imaginings.
Its system is based around a core concept at the heart of a number of D20 games, comparing the roll of a 20-sided die, modified by character competencies or circumstances, against a difficulty number to determine success or failure. The simplicity of this system is belied, however, by the huge number of skills, advantages, and powers available, opening up a robust scope of options for both character creation and for inventive storytellers.
#Aberrant is a superhero RPG for the socially conscious, or those interested in telling superhero stories with more shades of gray than your typical capes and cowls narrative. Set in a world where a number of individuals have developed the ability to manipulate the world at the sub-atomic (or quantum) level, Aberrant allows players to create characters, called novas, that are more from the “trapped in circumstances beyond their control” mold than the typical heroic avenger.
Aberrant is geared towards telling gritty, realistic stories — stories that imagine what might happen in the real world if people with super abilities began to appear amongst us.
Like most games that originated from #WhiteWolfGameStudio, the world of Aberrant is populated with a number of factions, all with their own creeds and motivations and disciples.
One of the most important, Project Utopia, is a nominally altruistic organization dedicated to the smooth integration of novas into society and ensuring that humanity and its new offshoot can coexist peacefully. However, beneath the surface, Project Utopia is a sprawling, complex conspiracy dedicated to ensuring that novas are kept in check through whatever means necessary, often employing pseudo-legal or insidious methods in service to the “greater good.”
Arrayed against them are the eponymous Aberrants, a group of novas dedicated to rooting out corruption within Project Utopia and exposing its true nature. Players can side with either group, the dimensions of which may change according to the storyteller’s whims (and the necessities of their campaign) or stand completely outside this power structure and pursue their own agendas.