It’s time for the third RPG Blog Carnival, this time hosted over at Chatty DM’s.
Now, usually, I am not one for superhero gaming. The old, classic superhero stuff does nothing to me. You need to subvert or twist it somehow to get me interested. I think Spider-Man and Superman are pretty boring as characters, but Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, or 1602? Awesome.
It’s a bit different with movies, since the visual medium works there on an entirely different level and if you execute your big explosions and fight choreographies well, I can forgive a lot of stupid on the plot side of things. The first Spider-Man was pretty good, the third was abominable. Iron Man rocks.
So, I don’t really do much superhero gaming. It works better when told by someone else.
However, there is one exception. There is one superhero game that makes me go weak in the knees and dribble all over myself in an unabashed display of fanboyish glee.
I consider it not only the finest of all superhero games but also the finest of all WW2 roleplaying games. It is Godlike, and it is mighty.
It is, sadly, also little known and getting a bit hard to find nowadays.
Godlike was released in 2001, produced by Pagan Publishing and published buy Hobgoblynn Press. Since then, the line has been developed by Arc Dream Publishing. They have a typical small-press release schedule – few books, long intervals, with lots of missed deadlines and suspected vaporware.
However, the important bit is the main book, which rules.
First place it rules is the rules. I think Godlike was the first game to utilise the One-Roll Engine (ORE) of Greg Stolze, which has since seen use in games such as Godlike’s spiritual successor Wild Talents and Stolze’s own game Reign. On the core mechanic level, it’s a dice pool system with a twist. I’m not going to go into the details, but basically, you roll dem bones and count all matching numbers. The amount of matches is the width of the roll and the number matching is the height. The specifics of what these mean vary according to what you’re trying to do. I consider the system rather elegant, in that with a single roll you determine, for example, if you hit your enemy, how much damage you did, where did you hit him, and if you managed to attack before he did.
It does have the odd effect of headshots happening first in any given round, though, but we can forgive that.
There is an updated version of the ruleset in the limited-edition game Wild Talents, and its forthcoming second edition, that may easily be used with Godlike.
However, the magnificence of Godlike stems not from its ruleset, elegant and sublime thought it may be, but from its setting, written by Dennis Detwiller.
Godlike is a superhero roleplaying game set during the Second World War. The player characters are Talents, men who have manifested extraordinary powers, such as flight, the ability to leap great distances, pyrokinesis, teleportation, or more wondrous abilities.
However, though they are figures larger than life, the war is larger than them, and a bullet will kill a flying man just as surely as anybody else. A short summary of the game’s tone would be “the X-Men go save Private Ryan.”
Of course, many Talents do have abilities that protect them. The Indestructible Man survived the war, and drank himself to death a few decades later. Bullets shirked from the Danish resistance fighter Vogel, who went on to perish in a car crash. The German Übermensch Feuerzauber’s talent converted all kinetic energy directed against him into a proportional amount of heat energy, rendering him practically invulnerable. He suffocated in a fire during the Battle of Stalingrad.
There’s a gritty tone to the game that appeals to me. It is about ordinary people with extraordinary abilities in a truly extraordinary situation. Nobody wears their underpants on the outside or sports a cape, because that would make them a target for enemy snipers. Anyone can die to a lucky shot.
Also, the core book contains the finest alternate history timeline I have ever read. Each major event of the war from the Italian invasion of Abyssinia (where they were opposed by a Talent called Zindel, who turned entire companies of men into statues of salt) to the establishment of the state of Israel (a nation with a disproportionate number of Talents due to their great numbers among concentration camp survivors – stress or great peril was a common cause of Talent manifestation).
Funnily enough, one of the first Talents in the world is a Finnish soldier, Viljo, who lurks around in the mountains of Eastern Finland (!?), naked in the snow, and destroys entire Soviet armoured columns armed with only a knife.
Though there are no mountains whatsoever in Finland or any territory we’ve historically claimed, there’s something quintessentially Finnish about a naked man in the snow, armed with a knife.
The Soviets called him “Bielaja Smert”, or “The White Death”. In actual history, this nom de guerre belonged to Simo Häyhä, one of the most successful snipers ever.
Another favourite of mine is the description of the landing at Omaha Beach, where 110 German Übermenschen met the 289 American Talents of the First Talent Assault Group in “The Ten Minutes of Hell,” where hand-to-hand fighting claimed seventeen of the world’s strongest men and two of the fastest fliers were blown out of the air. Though the assault was an American victory, only 24 of their Talent force was left alive at its end.
I’ve run two short Godlike campaigns, myself, one kicking off with the free adventure “Glazier” available from the game’s downloads page, and another with the fan-made “The Rats and the Shrike,” available here.
The latter game didn’t really go according to the game’s tone, in that the ordinary soldiers that came along on the mission were designated Puny Humans no. 1 through 6, but much fun was had. I recall one of the PC Talents taking the shape of a bear and then taking off the Nazi strongman’s head and another Übermensch getting shot in the face as the party was making its escape.
The bear Talent, by the way, later survived such various attacks as a point-blank hit with a Panzerfaust and a direct hit from an 88mm artillery piece. Said artillery was on board a German destroyer that was subsequently sunk by another of the PC Talents, who swam through it. He was then killed by a headshot.
It’s been some years since those games took place, and I’d be willing to give the game another try, perhaps with a Wild Talents rules update. Especially if they ever get Operation: Torch out of the gate.