The Best of Them Bleed It Out

Superheroes is probably the number two RPG destination after swords and sorcery, though modern horror and sci-fi would be strong contenders. Nearly all supers games, though, spend quite a bit of effort on mechanical simulation, which can make it harder to capture the feel of supers in play. A player often wants to fling a car at a villain without checking a complex algorithm for lifting, throwing, and damage. Systems that are highly granular and simulationist tend to make a lot of comics tropes possible, but only with a multi-step process.

Even the systems that make this easier to do are often simplifying without shaping. That is, they basically run the same, just faster, as the more complex engines, because the effects are less granular. But the engines are fundamentally a mechanical sim underneath, interested in preserving and extending the physics of the real world. They don’t often give the GM and players a lot of tools for making the game feel like a comic rather than any other modern game in spandex. There are often a few nods to genre emulation, like hero points awarded for following tropes, but they aren’t generally integral. You can easily play these games off-tone if you’re not fully versed in the language of comics and interested in playing along.

MHR is doing something I haven’t seen before. It superficially resembles some of the other low-granularity supers games out there. Unlike most of them, though, it’s not just a simplification of a more complex engine, but each rules element is in place to make genre emulation easier. Rather than a set of attributes, there are elements to make you think about your role on the team and your character’s attitudes and backstory. Powers are arranged around generating thematic sets and include voluntary limitations for flavor. Skills require you to think about allies and other resources to use them optimally. And the entire action sequence is designed to model comic panels rather than clock time.

That’s not to say that other games don’t have various similar elements or answers to these things, but none of the ones I’ve played have done as good a job of making it feel like you’re playing in a comic story. They make sacrifices on that front to differentiate power levels and effects, or to provide a world of rational physics extended to the power of supers. MHR perhaps does some of these things less well, but it’s all in the interest of feeling like you’re playing a comic rather than feeling like you’re playing in the real world, with supers.

It does it all with a system that’s variable enough that it doesn’t feel hand-wavey when you stat a character, but in which it’s pretty easy to stat and run characters. And you can try lots of random stuff without breaking the engine. It’s ultimately pretty easy to run once you’re comfortable with the fundamentals, does a good job of modeling supers and a great job of modeling comics, you can tweak it without fear, and a lot of its systems are modular enough to steal for other games. The next time I think about running a supers game, this will definitely be at the top of my list for engines.

So check it out. ‘Nuff said.