Superhero Roleplaying in a world on fire, 1936-1946
In the year 1936, the Berlin Olympics is opened by a man who flew around the stadium without the aid of any machine. As the crowds watched in awe, Hitler proclaimed that he was the first of the new German master race. Soon enough men and women all over the world began manifesting strange powers. When war broke out in Europe and later Asia, these people, known as 'Talents' were sent to the frontlines in to fight and die in their hundreds and thousands for their country. Gifted with powers beyond the average human, they still might not be enough to save you from the terrors on war.
Like I said in my introductory post, Godlike is what I consider to be the game that introduced me to the wider world of roleplaying games. Before I knew about it, I stuck to the two big game lines of the RPG world, Dungeons and Dragons and World of Darkness. When I discovered that the awesome six part comic 'Godlike: There were giants in those days' at the back of the Dragon magazines I used to buy was in fact an RPG, my mind was blown. After borrowing a friend's copy, I instantly fell in love with it. It introduced me to the world of customisable abilities instead of simply picking from a list and I adored the gritty war superheroics and the alternate history it painted.
By Hobgoblin Press, the now defunct company that would one day become Arcdream, Godlike is one of the first games published that uses the One Roll Engine or ORE system. Characters roll a number of ten-sided dice equal to the number in their pool and look for matches, such as a pair of 3s or four 6s. In most cases, a match is a success. The number of dice in the set is it's 'width' and generally determines how fast an action is performed, as well as how much damage an attack deals and the number on the dice is the 'height' which generally determines how well you've succeeded at something, or which part of the body an attack hits. So, if I have a 2 in body and a 2 in brawling, I roll 4 dice when I want to clock a guy in the jaw and look for the matches.
The characters in Godlike trend towards the low-powered variety. They aren't supermen flying into the Reichstag and punching Hitler. Their power is just another weapon, hopefully one that will keep them alive. As the back cover says 'you are larger than life, but the war is larger than you'. The game is deadly as hell. One pair of 10s and a lowly rifle toting German will blow your budding superman's head right off. Helmets really will save your life. In sadly short-lived Actual Play 'We Go First', nine characters died in the space of five sessions and only three of those were due to enemy talent action.
While it has since been updated into the more general and toolkit system Wild Talents, I still adore Godlike for its tightly focused and incredibly well detailed timeline and setting. It will remain one of my classic favourites and I basically owe it a life-debt for introducing me to the ORE system, which ranks among my top mechanics systems ever.
Step 1) Talk to your GM
Here's the bit where I am supposed to discuss the specifics of the game, what time it is set, where the characters can be from, that sort of thing. Since it's just me, I get to go with whatever I want! I want to start with an Australian character of some kind. Looking at the 'When Parahumans First Appear' timeline so helpfully presented in the book, the first Australian talent was Peter 'Misfire' Fitzgerald, who manifested his power (turning enemy explosives into sand) at the siege of Tobruk on June 21st 1942. So it probably should be after that.
What I think would be cool is to have a character who manifested his powers during the Battle of Brisbane, an incident of violence between Australian and American forces in late November 1942. We'll say the campaign takes place around October 1943, almost a year after.
Step 2) Create a Background
Here's where I decide on who my character is as a person, as well as their general background.
Name: Something decently anglo. Private Thomas Arnell has a good ring to it for some reason, let's go with that.
Nationality: Australian, obviously. More specifically, the state of Queensland, somewhere just outside Brisbane
Age: I want him to be young, but not too young. How about 24? If it's 1943, then something like April 12th, 1919 suits fine.
Family:According to this step, I have to list family members still living in his home town. I'm going to say his Dad is still around (Mother died of Spanish Flu during the outbreak) and a younger sister (married).
Education: I want Tom to at least be high-school educated. After that, let's say he got an apprenticeship installing electric lighting in homes.
Friends: Tom's best mates and rugby companions Stewart, Donald and Josh all signed up the same day he did and were right alongside him hurling abuse at US MPs when his talents manifested. Unfortunately, he doesn't see them much now that he's been reassigned to a different, all-talent unit.
Dependents: None. Tom is still single and fancy free, although he's had a dalliance, here and there.
Motivations: Here you have to figure out a one sentence motivation for your character, like 'survive the war', 'get married' etc. Considering his role in the Battle of Brisbane, I'm going to go with 'Show up Americans'. Tom still has a bit of a chip on his shoulder regarding the whole thing.
There, now we have a little bit of an idea who he is and where he comes from. Let's give him some stats!
Step 3) Buy Stats and Skills
Like most RPGs, Godlike has stats that determine the basic general competencies of your character. There are six of them, Body (physical strength and endurance), Co-ordination (Agility and hand-eye coordination), Sense (The five senses and general perception), Brains (mental faculties), Command (ability to influence others) and finally Cool (self-control and ability to maintain calm). Two points in a stat is average, five is the peak of human ability.
Tom gets one starting point in each of these and then I get six more to put wherever I want. I'm going to be horrifically boring and spread them evenly. Tome is pretty average. This means I don't get any extra wound boxes to my hit locations, any extra skill points from a high Brains score or any extra goodies. Oh well.
One last pair of stats I have to determine are my Base Will and Will. Will is super important in Godlike, because it's what keeps your powers going. Every time something terrifying or depressing happens, like a squadmate dies, a dude douses you with a flamethrower or a King Tiger start firing at you, you have to make a Cool+Mental Stability check. Fail, and you have a choice between shitting your pants, curling up in the fetal position for a while and losing half your will, or standing your ground and losing all of it. Unfortunately, when you've lost all your will, your powers no longer work. You can also use will in a contest to shut down enemy talents whenever they specifically target you, in bidding war known as a contest of wills. You determine your Base Will by adding your Cool and Command scores, so Tom has an average Base Will of 4. Starting will is equal to Base Will, so again, 4.
Now we have skills, things that your character has learned over time. I have 20 points to spend on these! I'm going to start by grabbing 2 in Mental Stability, because as I just pointed out, keeping your will score up is important. As I decided in the background, Tom is an electrician, so I'm giving him 2 in electronics to represent that. Let's say that due to his weekends playing rugby with his mates has given him an Athletics of 2, Run of 2 and a Throw of 2. He's also gone through boot-camp, which I reckon gives him 2 in Rifle, 2 in Submachine gun, 2 in Hearing, 1 in Navigation (land) and 1 in Stealth. Finally, I think every Australian should be able to swim, so I'm spending my final 2 points on Swim .
If I were creating a character that was a member of the American Commando Talent Operation Group I would get a package of skills to add on here, but I'm not, so we're skipping that step.
4) Finally, Add the Talents
Yay, the fun part, superpowers! Like stats and skills, Godlike assigns powers a die pool which you roll when activating the power. However, special types of dice can also be purchased for powers. Hard Dice cost twice as much and are always 10s, meaning that if you have a pair of hard dice in a power, it is pretty much always guaranteed to succeed. Wiggle Dice cost four times as much and lets the player choose the number instead of rolling. I get 25 points to spend on building a power, with any excess being added to my Base Will score.
What kind of power should I have? Let me paint the scene: An angry mob of Australian soldiers storming around, finally fed up with the way they're treated worse than the Americans. Tommy is there with his mates, somewhat drunk and hurling things. An empty bottle is thrown - which explodes. Not shatters, but an honest-to-god fiery explosion. Fortunately, Tommy's throw was off, or someone could have died. Everyone stops in shock, the riot dissipates and soon military police have shown up to haul Tommy away for examination and questioning. It soon turns out that Tommy can do this with any bit of junk or debris, not just bottles.
How would I model this power? I could make it from scratch, but fortunately, Godlike has a whole bunch of pre-constructed powers ready for modification in the 'power cafeteria' section. 'Exploding debris' sounds like a 'harm' power, your general 'hurts other people' power. This power starts off costing 5 points per die. That's because, as well as a base cost of 1 per die it has the other 4 Godlike power qualities that determine a power's base cost. It can Attack (hurt people), Defend (stop people hurting you) is Robust (generally works without messing up) and Useful Outside of Combat (Does other stuff). 5 points is a bit pricey. Fortunately I can modify the cost of the power by taking Extras, cool stuff that makes it more expensive and Flaws, disadvantages that makes it cheaper.
First off, I don't think the power is very good for defending. You can't really deflect bullets with a thrown bottle or piece of rubble. So let's remove that defends quality, reducing the cost by 1. I'm also going to take the Nervous Habit flaw, a catch-all general disadvantage flaw, in this case (must throw debris or junk), meaning he can't use the power if he has no junk or can't throw for whatever reason. I'm also going to take the flaw Peace of Mind , where a character has to be in a certain mental state to use the power, in this case anger. That drives the cost down by 2 more points.
Currently we're sitting at only 1 point per die! That's much better. But now we should add some cool extras to the power. I'm going to start with 1 rank in Area. This means that when I use the power, it's an explosion that causes damage to everyone nearby like a grenade, to the tune of 2 shock damage (the kind that just knocks you out) to every location and 1 point of killing damage (the kind that kills you, obviously) per rank in area to a randomly rolled location. Taking this not only increases the cost of 1 per die, it also costs 5 points per rank from my total of 25, meaning I have 20 points left. Next up, I'm going to add the Burn extra for another 1 point per die, which means that after hitting, the power deals 1 point of shock damage to every location except the head until the target does something to put out the fire. Finally, I'm going to add the Splash and Spread extra for 2 points per die, which means the attack does damage to adjacent hit locations (mostly this means the torso, although if it hits the torso, that means it hits everywhere. Ouch.) and then continues to do 1 shock damage for a number of rounds equal to the width of the roll.
Hhhhmmm, we're back up to 5 points per die and I only have 20 points left. I think I'll add another flaw. I'm going to pick the Interference flaw which reduces the cost by 2 points per die and means that any talent that sees me using my power can enter a contest of wills with me to screw it up. That puts me at 3 points per die, most reasonable. I'm going to take 6 dice in it, which costs me 18 points, plus the 5 from 1 rank of area for a total of 23. Those leftover 2 points get added to my Base Will, increasing that score to 6.
What does all this mean exactly? Well, when Tom is angry, has some debris at hand, and wants to hurt someone, he chucks a broken bottle or bit of rubble or something, and rolls 6 dice. If he gets a match, his main target takes width in killing and shock to that location, and to all adjacent hit locations. They then continue to take 1 point of shock damage to all locations except the head, and 1 point of shock damage to locations adjacent to the the one hit from a number of rounds equal to the width of the roll. Everyone in the nearby area (including the target) takes 2 points of shock damage to every location and one random point of killing damage. When you see how many wound boxes your average person has below, you'll realise the poor bastard that got hit by this attack is likely to die quite quickly.
The Finished Product
Yay, my first character is done! Ladies and gents, presenting Private Thomas Arnell. I've decided to give him the nickname 'Blackstrap', which was American slang for Army coffee, gained when another soldier joked that Tommy was just throwing that at the riot instead of having a talent power.
Private Thomas 'Blackstrap' Arnell
Height: 5'10 Weight: 148lbs.
D.O.B: April 12th 1919
Family: Father, Younger Sister
Education: High school, Trade apprenticeship
Motivations: Show up the Yanks
Stats: Body 2, Co-ordination 2, Sense 2, Brains 2, Command 2, Cool 2
Skills: Athletics 2, Electronics 2, Hearing 2, Mental Stability 2, Navigation (Land) 1, Rifle 2, Run 2, Stealth 1, Sub-machine gun 2, Swim 2, Throw 3
Base Will: 6
Talent Powers (Cost: 23 points)
Explosive Junk 6d (Attacks, Robust, Useful Outside Combat 4/8/16)
(Extras: Area 1 (+5; +1/2/4), Burn (+1/2/4), Splash and Spread (+2/4/8); Flaws: Interference (-2/4/8), Nervous Habit (must throw debris) (-1/2/4), Peace of Mind (-2//4/8); 23 points)
Looking back, that seems like a very small 'sheet' (I'm working on actually writing the finished stat block in sheet form for future characters) for the length of the post. Also, the height and weight things weren't mentioned in the creation process, but seem to be part of the finished product. Oh well.
I'm considering using actual character sheets in the future, but for now I'll stick with just typing them up.
How I would Run It
A while back I ran two sessions of Godlike, a straight take on the game premise following a squad of British and Australian talents fighting alongside the American during Operation Torch, with missions that included storming a French chateau turned temporary HQ and holding the line for an Allied retreat out a of small town whose name I forget. We had no deaths, fortunately, but the company sergeant had his leg crushed by a German super-soldier who could turn into an ogre and a private got hurled into the air by a teleporting power and very nearly died.
One day, I really want to run the published campaign Black Devils Brigade, which follows the exploits of a group of talents attached to the titular (and real-life I should add) unit and their battles in Italy. It's a fantastic campaign with the kind of imaginative power concepts that drew me into Godlike in the first place.
I also have a wild west one-shot idea where talent powers manifested during the American Civil War. The game would follow the exploits of seven talent lawmen/women who ride into a troubled town one day. I call it, 'The Truly Magnificent Seven'.
First post over! If you have absolutely any feedback or questions, please don't hesitate to comment. Next character coming soon.