Monthly Archives: February 2020

Spectaculars: A Call for Heroes!

The world is beset by flying criminals, super-strong hoodlums, and unknowable threats. Who can protect the every-day citizens of Spectacular City? Who can keep us safe in the face of such terrible challenges?

The world needs heroes. The world needs YOU!

It’s happening folks. I’m actually going to run an online game. And it will be the fabulous, new SPECTACULARS!

Where & When

Roll20, one Wednesday per month, 9pm to 11pm (UK time)
Hangouts for video/chat
(not streaming, the world isn’t ready for my level of talent… )

Players: 3-6 per session (although episodic nature of the game means there is scope for players to drop in and out). No experience necessary, but this is a light-ish system with strong emphasis on narrative.

Style: Spectaculars is a comic book superhero game, and the default tone is fairly traditional four-colour supers. However, there is scope to make it slightly grittier, so that’s a discussion I’ll be having as part of Session 0.

Session 0: Wednesday 19th February, 9pm-11pm

The first session will be a chance for us to come together and discuss what we want the game to look like. In particular, it will cover the following ground:

1. Choose the Issue.

I’m offering a choice of two of the four Issues provided in the Spectaculars box.

Streetlight Knights

Explorers of the Unknown

Streetlight Knights is a spectaculars series themed around street-level heroes, organized crime, gang wars, and intrigue. This series hearkens back to comic book stories of defenders of Bad Neighborhoods, shadowy vigilantes, sinister crime lords, assassins, secret societies, and the struggle between the lawless and the heroes who would stand in their way.

Explorers of the unknown is a spectaculars series themed around super science, exploration, and incredible threats of inhuman proportions. This series hearkens back to silver age stories of astronaut families, inventors, mad scientists, alien invasions, and artifacts of
unknowable science and incredible power.

Think… Batman, Daredevil, Dark Champions

Think… Fantastic Four, JLA

2. The Setting

Next, we’ll complete the first two pages of the Settings book. This asks us to collaboratively agree a number of background details, covering:

  • In what City is the Issue set (real or fictional)
  • Why is this City special?
  • Name some of the details of the City – the bad neighbourhood, the quiet suburb, the iconic skyline feature
  • How do super powers heroes fit into the setting – how common are heroes and villains? How do the public, media and authorities feel about powered heroes?
  • What’s the tone? How often do superheroes die? (and yes, this last one has a game mechanical impact)

3. What kind of Team are you?

Each Issue gives two different options for the type of Super-team:

Streetlight Knights

Explorers of the Unknown

Mentors & Wards

This team is composed of heroes whose crime-fighting identities are linked to a single mentor. Examples include Batman and his family of related heroes and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The mentor hero can be a Narrator character or it can be one of the heroes on this team’s roster.

Family

Your team of heroes is a family, whether tied by blood or simply by tight bonds of fellowship and love. Examples from popular comics include the Fantastic Four, the Titans, the First Family (Astro City), and the Incredibles.

Neighbourhood Watch

This team is made up of heroes who band together to protect a particular neighbourhood or district within a city. Examples from popular comics include the Defenders, the Birds of Prey and the Outsiders.

Prodigies

Your team is full of the brightest and boldest minds, heroes who showed great promise in making their mark on the world even before they gained their powers. Examples include the Avengers, the JLA and the Authority.

4. What kind of Hero are you?

Each player will pick one of the starting Archetypes (there should be enough for one for everyone). If we’re struggling to choose, I’ll just deal them out at random!

Streetlight Knights

Explorers of the Unknown

Vigilante

As a crime-fighting hero, you patrol the streets to dispense your own brand of justice. You use stealth and combat prowess and wear a costume designed to stoke an emotional response in villains.

Construct

You are an artificial being, a life form that was made, not born. Though independent and sentient, some still question if you are truly alive.

Street Sentinel

You have declared yourself the guardian of your neighbourhood, a protector of the people who will do what it takes to keep the streets clean. You stand up for your neighbours, friends, and co-workers when the authorities can’t or won’t.

Energy Battery

Your body stores a particular energy, using it to fuel your powers. This energy suffuses your every cell, and you become more than just container for that energy; you become that energy.

Soldier of Fortune

You are a soldier who answers to no one. You have all the training and trappings of a member of the armed forces, but ply your trade keeping criminals off the streets.

Monster

You are a hero, but others see you as a monster. You have been changed by your superpowers, and not entirely for the better.

Warrior

You are a trained fighter, usually specializing in an esoteric fighting style or archaic weapons. You live according to your own warrior’s code and hone your skills to prepare for the fight against evil.

Super Soldier

You are a warrior whose physical strength, stature, and physical capability well exceed the normal human maximums. You were trained for combat and are a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield.

Teenage Hero

You may be young, but you’re not too young to be a hero. Experience is the best teacher, so you don a costume and hit the streets, fighting crime while most of your peers are doing homework.

Power Armour Pilot

You wear a suit of powered armour that turns you into a walking tank. Your superpowers are the result of the suit’s
technology.

Speedster

You are a fast-moving hero, racing around the battlefield, running circles around your enemies. While you might have super-powered speed, you may also simply use your powers to stay in perpetual motion, bouncing around so that your enemies have a hard time tracking you.

Inventor

You are a creator, someone who looks at the technology of the world and uses it for the forces of good. Your superpowers are your inventions, and you are constantly tweaking them, upgrading them, and redesigning them.

5. Complete Character Generation

I plan to use a character sheet I’ve designed to capture all the key information for the heroes. Spectaculars comes packaged with lots of lovely bits, including character tracking pads, but these aren’t actually great for online play for two reasons:

  • They’re double-sided
  • You actually need two sheets: the Archetype sheet and a Hero tracking sheet

So I’ve come up with a single-sided sheet that combines both the Archetype and Hero tracker into one (and is sized so I can drop the image files of the Power, Identity and Team Role cards right onto the sheet). Think I need to make the Hero Name a bit more prominent though…

Spectaculars Charsheet

The steps in character generation are:

  1. Read through the character questions and special ability on your archetype sheet. Keep them in the back of your mind for now.
  2. Draw 5 power cards. Choose 1 to 3 powers from these five and/or the basic powers: Energy Blast, Flight. Signature Weapon, Strength, Toughness
  3. Note down your “Hero Points per Conflict”, the minimum number of Hero Points you have at the start of any conflict scene. This is 5, minus 2 for each Power you keep after the first.
  4. Draw 3 identity cards. Choose one to be your non-superhero ID
  5. Choose a team role
Artillery
You do your best work when attacking from afar, lobbing ranged attacks down on your foes.
Booster
You bring out the best in your fellow heroes by watching their backs and pointing out opportunities for success when they arise.
Controller
You manage the battlefield, using your powers to slow and stall your enemies to lessen the pressure on your allies.
Leader
You combine tactical advice with confident reinforcement to keep your teammates fighting long after they would otherwise have fallen.
Striker
You like to get up close and personal, making sure your enemies know who is dealing out the pain.
Support
You work well alongside your fellow heroes, coordinating with them to keep the momentum on your allies’ side.
Tactician
You coordinate your allies and look for openings in your enemies’ defenses, giving your team a tactical edge.
Tank
You get in the faces of your enemies and remind them that to ignore you is to invite punishment.
  1. Go back to the Archetype sheet and answer the questions there.
  2. Give yourself a name

And that’s it. There’s more stuff around your Aspiration, Turmoil and Origin, but those are left until after the first session, giving you a chance to play with your Hero a bit before nailing down those important decisions as to who exactly they are.

Session 1

The final step will be to agree a regular date for the ongoing monthly sessions (e.g. 3rd Wednesday of every month). And then… Up, up and away!

Interested? Send a Twitter DM to @thedicemechanic and I’ll organise an invite to Session 0 on Roll20, Wednesday 19th February.

It’s Clobberin’ Time!

Credit: Vigilante image by David Lojaya, Inventor image by Des Taylor, from the Spectaculars Digital Creators Art pack

Because that character sheet includes pictures from the game itself, figure I should just clarify the following:

Spectaculars Created and Owned By: Rodney Thompson
Original Graphic Design: Brigette Indelicato
Original Icon Design: Daniel Gelon and Brigette Indelicato

Spectaculars, its characters and distinctive likenesses are the property of Scratchpad Publishing, LLC. This material is protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America. Any reproduction or unauthorized use of the material or artwork contained herein is prohibited without the express written permission of Scratchpad Publishing. Spectaculars ©2019, 2020, Scratchpad Publishing, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Visit http://scratchpadpublishing.com for more information.

Graphic Design, Icons, Art, and Product Identity usage Licensed with permission under the terms of the SPECTACULARS CREATIVE USE LICENSE.

Spectaculars: the review

(Edited 20/4/2020 to correct “Issue” to “Series” when referring to the campaign, and “session” to “Issue” for each individual adventure. Oops.)

Spectaculars is the brand new superhero RPG by Scratchpad Publications, the label under which former D&D fifth edition designer, Rodney Thomson, has been producing games since leaving WotC a few years back. I missed out on the highly acclaimed Dusk City Outlaws when it Kickstarted back in 2017, which offered low-prep heist action. As a big fan of the superhero genre, there was no way I was going to miss out on his next offering when Spectaculars came to Kickstarter in 2018.

It arrived last week and its fair to say I wasn’t disappointed.

 

Behind the Mask

Components 1Spectaculars comes in a big euro boardgame-style box, chock full of cards, pads and dice. The boardgame analogies don’t end with the contents, as the rulebook is kept relatively slim (just 60 pages, in the same large square shape as the box). You can see Rodney’s experience in designing board games as well as RPGs shining through, as the rulebook only contains the essential rules to play, relying on the other components – primarily several decks of cards covering Powers, Secret IDs, Complications, Team roles – to pull their weight in detailing the rules that apply to each Components 2element.

No extensive lists of abilities here: if you want to know what an Energy Blast does, look at the Energy Blast card. Not great for GMs who want to know the ins and outs of every single rule in the game, but makes for much more accessible rulebook and suits the low-prep, high player-trust intent of the game.

 

 

Incredible Tales of Urban Warriors, #273

As you know, I’m usually about the crunch. But in Spectaculars, where the numbers you roll against actually come from is pretty interesting, so I’m going to start there. And as a story-led game, it all begins with the “Series”.

Series is Spectaculars’ name for a campaign, which reflects the game’s extremely strong tone towards emulating superhero comic books. This is worth emphasising: this isn’t just a superhero RPG, it’s a superhero comic book RPG. Throughout the game, Spectaculars provides comic book examples to illustrate each of its key elements, which makes it really clear what they’re referring to and helps fire your imagination. The box comes bundled with four ready-made Series, made up of around 12-13 “Issues”, which are provided on tear off pads and is an element that feels like a legacy boardgame as much as an RPG. As you play the Issue, you will mark up the sheets to reflect how your game went, creating a lasting record of your campaign as well as making it unusable for repeat play (no biggie – us kickstarter backers have it all on pdf to reprint and replay!). Not only does each Series describe a unique campaign story, it also has a distinct tone, which is reinforced throughout the game.

  • The first few pages of each Series provide the available Team types (e.g. for the urban heroes Streetlight Knights series, you pick either Mentor & Wards (e.g. Batman and his extended family) or Neighbourhood Watch (e.g. Birds of Prey). The tear-off Team Roster tracks the members, the team’s reputations and gets you started with three hooks: what brought you together, your mission, and what could happen if you fail.
  • Next, you get a bunch of hero Archetypes specifically suited for the theme and tone of the Series. These get you thinking about who your hero is and what their powers represent. Each Archetype also gives one special ability – e.g. the Speedster gets to bump up their initiative, going earlier in conflict scenes.
  • Finally you get the GM content: a few Villain sheets, which give the template for the first baddies the heroes will have to face, and around 12 Scenario sheets – the “issues” – each designed for a single session and requiring just a few minutes read through to prep.

One cool thing is that as you progress through the Series, as well as getting new Scenarios and Villains, you also occasionally get new hero Archetypes, so if a hero falls by the wayside for whatever reason, you get interesting new options as the story progresses. E.g. after Issue 2, Streetlight Knights introduces the Investigator and Pulp Hero archetypes, and after Issue 11, you get the Secret Agent.

 

Origin Story

So, you’ve picked your Series, your Team and your Archetype – what next? Powers. Draw 5 Power cards, choose up to 3. Your first is rated at 80%, then 70%, then 60%. If you pick fewer, you get more Hero Points which let you do cool things. Again, the Series gets involved, with powers chosen from a deck made up of 25 common powers and 15 Series-specific. You won’t get a Utility Belt in a cosmic superhero game, nor will you have magical Healing in your street-level investigations. They’re rounded off with 5 basic powers – Strength, Energy Blast, Flight, Toughness and Signature Weapon – which you can pick instead of drawing at random.Secret_ID

Next, you draw an Identity card, again a mix of generic and Series-specific. These give you not only your job, but also your skills.

Finally, you choose a Team Role, which gives you a special ability which can be triggered by spending Hero Points, and gives you a sense of your tactical speciality within the team. Huntress and Nightwing are both street-level acrobatic martial artists, but while Huntress might use the Artillery role to do extra damage with her crossbow, as Tactician, Nightwing’s battlefield awareness can help teammates use power stunts more often.

 

The Mechanical Mayhem of the Machine Master!

Now we have some numbers. For the core mechanics, roll d% under your ability. Add Boons and Challenge dice to complicate things slightly (turning the basic d% into something more like FFG’s funky dice pools).

But what can each skills or power do? Anything. This is very much a free-form game in the style of HeroQuest or Fate – if you can provide the explanation, you’ve at least got a chance of doing anything you like with any ability. In addition, each power has a special Power Stunt which is usually limited by how often you can do it (e.g. with Phasing, you can ignore damage from an attack). DazzleThe default use of powers is the “attack”: roll against the power’s % rating, and if successful you inflict the value of the roll in damage. Similarly, skills can often be used for mental attacks. However, if inflicting damage doesn’t make sense, you have other options such as stopping movement (e.g. Elastic Body power) or adding challenge dice (one effect of which is to reduce the damage of an attack, e.g. Forcefield power).

This is a great, flexible system that makes superheroics very dynamic and character-driven. It does require players to have a degree of creativity to ensure narrative options make sense, but the GM can actively influence things with the Boon and Challenge dice.

“So, Anton, you want to Sneak Around behind the gangsters and ambush them? It’s pretty dark down that alley, have a Boon die to help you!”

“Oh, Zara, using Throw Money at the Problem to bribe the gangsters? Again? Have 4 challenge dice, they’re still flush from last time you did that…”

So far, so good. A relatively simple, narrative-heavy, rules-light superhero game. Cool, but nothing spectacular (oh, please). What gives it that extra bit of hero magic, is the story structure around the mechanics.

 

I must stop Nefario, but Steve is waiting for me at the Prom!

Spectaculars uses a few different tools to help emulate comic books and reward players for doing so. Each Issue provides core scenes for the GM to run: any other scenes are created by the players using Interludes. Typically, these are used to gather more information, uncover clues or progress a personal goal. They are intentionally highly free-form: Spectaculars won’t tell you the PCs need to go to the Municipal Museum to find a clue as to Anubis’ evil scheme. The clue is (potentially) wherever the PCs want to look, the fun comes in determining what the obstacle is and how they overcome it. It requires a GM to think on their feet, but it’s entirely in keeping with the genre, again. And generally, each Interlude should have a simple, one-roll resolution, which keeps things fast and light.

Even more interesting are personal Interlude scenes. After the first Issue, every character should write their origin story, and gain an Aspiration and a Turmoil. I love that these aren’t included from the start, as this feels in genre – starting with the superhero and rounding out the character later. Then, before the opening scene of subsequent Issues, each Hero can frame an Interlude scene reflecting their Aspiration or Trouble, and earn that PC an extra XP advancement and a Continuity Token. This really helps tie character back-story into each scenario, in a way that really reflects the comic book genre. But with each Interlude recommended as being no more than 5 minutes, it shouldn’t get in the way of your traditional four-colour action.

As for that Continuity Token, it can be used to create Back Issues and Retcons. A back issue is a flashback scene to an earlier comic that gives you some information or advantage that relates to your current problem. A retcon establishes a new fact about a setting element, character or villain. Again, entirely in genre, and pure fuel for player creativity.

Jack, the yobbish wannabe-celebrity hero, needs information from the oily boss of a huge gambling corporation. He spends a retcon token, and establishes that he is in fact sponsored by them, with their logo proudly emblazoned across his super-suit. Now, getting that meeting is no problem. Whether he can get anything out of it, however, depends on Jack’s diplomatic skills. Oh dear…

 

You call that power, Megalad? Let me show you TRUE power!

And there’s more. The 40-page Setting Book contains key locations (Super-Science Lab! Crime Syndicate!) and major NPCs (Media Personality! The Agency Chief!) that crop up in most major comic book series. You fill this out collaboratively, building the world as you progress through the Issues.

Reputation tracks with the Media, Public and Government influence events throughout the Issues: maybe a high Public reputation helps calm some riots, or a high Government reputation brings unexpected help from on-high.

The Experience tracker awards Story Advancements as each hero engages with the Series and their personal Aspirations and Turmoils. Benefits range from traditional (extra skills, more hero points, improved powers) to transformational (new costume, mutation, take on the Mantle of the Bat!) – with a fifth and final Retirement advancement for heroes that reach the end of their story (giving a boost to your next character, which could represent a continuation of the previous character’s story as a clone, AI creation or even your former nemesis turned to good).

Lasting Repercussions are story-based consequences from the events of Issues, enriching the developing narrative for individual characters. For example, if a science-based hero helped defeat the Mad Scientist villain, they might gain “Vengeance of Dr Mystery”. Now, every future time they meet, Dr Mystery will get a growing bonus to attack their new-found arch-enemy (and in turn, granting the PC the option of a Nemesis advancement, giving extra hero points for any scene where the villain appears)

Complication cards help GMs add features to conflict scenes that split the heroes’ priorities. ComplicationDo you spend your turn trying to defeat The Devastator, or tackle the fire that just erupted in the nearby apartment block (and earn a Hero point for doing so)?!

With four Series included in the box, plus clear guidelines on how to create your own (and a digital creator pack that means you can be absolutely certain fan-made stuff will be hitting the internet soon) you have enough content for at least 50 sessions of fast, furious, story-driven superhero fun. With the exception of those lucky people with twenty year D&D campaigns, this ought to be more than enough for anyone. At around £1 per session, that seems like excellent value to money to me.

 

Oh Captain Wonderful, however can we thank you?

I am super-excited by this game. I do love crunch, but from many sessions of the likes of Champions, Mutants and Masterminds, DC Heroes etc., I felt there was something missing from superhero RPGs – an over-emphasis on the mechanics of super-fights, but not enough on emulating the genre itself. I always thought HeroQuest would be an excellent basis for super role-playing, and in some ways Spectaculars is this game, only more so. This game has provisionally leapt to the top of my extensive SHRPG pile, with it’s vivid four-colour art, episodic super-heroic action, and genre-reinforcing structure.

Caveat: I haven’t played Spectaculars, so this review is based purely on a read-through and my usual over-enthusiasm for any RPG that includes cards and components (see also, my unnecessarily large WFRP3 collection). But I am absolutely dying to give this game a good run through, and not just a one-shot, but a campaign. So watch this space…

 

Will The Dicemechanic actually organise an Online Campaign of this incredible new game? Find out in the next exciting issue of Spectacular Super-Tales!!

 

Spectaculars cover art featured at the top of the page is by David Lojaya. Ah, sod it, the whole team deserve credit for this great game, so here it is.

Spectaculars Credits

And just look at that list of names. Designer of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. Designer of Fate. Designer of M&M and Icons. Designer of Dungeonworld. Plus some prominent streamers/producers – let’s hope this game gets some internet air-time soon!