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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

OneDice Supers (a Review)...

With all the awesome superhero movies we've been treated to this past summer (and Doctor Strange in November), my thoughts inevitably turn to gaming, and I feel an overpowering urge to role-play in a world where radioactive spiders bite awkward teenagers and mutants organize to save the world!  But I want to create MY OWN heroes with the unique powers I imagine for them (sorry, Marvel Superheroes), and I don't want endless rules to get there...    

If this is your cup of tea, you might consider a recent discovery; OneDice Supers, a game that delivers all this and more! 

In the interest of full disclosure, I got this in trade from the designer (+Talon Waite).  We both share a passion for simplicity in gaming and have been having a good time trying each other's stuff out (because we WILL be giving it a whirl).

Back in the day (meaning the 80s), I played Champions (by Hero Games), and while the system had some exciting ideas, like a point buy system for powers and advantage/disadvantage rules meant to tailor abilities and costs, it had certain, uh, bugaboos, probably player error, that affected my gameplay experience... 

For one thing, the game was heavy on accounting, and we were certainly up to the challenge!  We'd spend a WHOLE WEEK hashing out the perfect character; I mean the optimal build, only to feel the inevitable anti-climax at the table.  And our creations were so powerful and meticulously crafted that no one could actually defeat anyone else, and everything fell into a tedious combat scenario culminating in a standoff.  We went back to D&D.

It didn't help that our GM was emotionally invested in his own villains; lovingly crafting each one and jumping into combat eager to show off his superior accounting!  

This was more than a little frustrating, because the game had so much going for it, including a then-revolutionary provision of players buying EFFECTS and justifying them (SPECIAL effects) however they wished.  But somehow, our group overthought things...

Now, many people ADORE Champions, and who am I to argue with anyone's personal preferences?  But OneDice Supers inevitably draws comparisons to that most venerable game because, for me, anyway, it incorporates its finest intuitions and expresses them in a smart and decidedly simple (and player-focused) rulebook.      

So without further delay, here's my take on OneDice Supers by Talon Waite and the awesome folks at Cakebread & Walton Games:

This is a game about superheroes.  Specifically, a game where players can custom-design their own heroes, complete with their own super powers, abilities, and back-story.  This is an intriguing prospect even if you don't otherwise enjoy comic books, and OneDice Supers DELIVERS here by trimming out the fat.

Character creation is easy.  You get 8 ability points to divide between four abilities; Strong, Clever, Quick, and Power.  Each of these relates to specific actions undertaken (i.e., climbing or firing a gun) within the course of a game.  Players can choose to be normal (vs. super-powered), however, with minor adjustments and stipulations, meaning this simple, tight little system can actually be used to make awesome pulp-styled heroes as well!  

These abilities can be used to calculate a character's Health, Defense, and Movement quickly and easily.  For instance, a Super's Health is Strength x 3.  Ditto for Defense and Movement, which effectively consolidates several additional calculations into a few simple steps easily completed within minutes.

Players also get 5 points to buy powers (Gifts), drawing from a streamlined, but comprehensive, list.  Supers can blast, ensnare, or even steal another's powers, and these can be justified within the narrative (referred to as their Tag), extending the options well beyond the 36 items offered.  Some of these, like superior strength, enhance abilities, while others, including blast, deliver heroic powers comparable to our favorite heroes from the comics!

Players can put one or more points (up to 3) into a Gift, each impacting its power and/or effectiveness.  Some are passive enhancements, while others require activation rolls per the power's written description, all of which are easy to use.

The possibilities are literally
endless, and the emphasis is on role-playing
as much as heroic superhero combat... 

Next, players choose one Embellishment, like being filthy rich or having a Batman-esque butler, and a single Flaw, such as being magically cursed or missing a body part, etc.  Finally, they get 6 Skill Points to purchase Skills, which is otherwise similar to Gifts and add greatly to the Super's background and persona.  There are likewise provisions for establishing the character's secret identity or Cover, and even rules for disposable income and equipment.  

Task resolution is similarly easy.  You roll one die, add the governing ability/power/skill score and compare the result against a Target Number established by the Game Keeper.  There's more, of course, but it largely all comes down to this simple core mechanic, which leaves more time (and energy) for the narrative!      

This is a compact ruleset that achieves great things.  Gifts are carefully selected to provide ENDLESS possibilities, being universal across the genre and GREATLY expanded by the Tags used to justify them within the narrative.  And the absence of complicated mechanics and tedious point accounting eliminates most abuse and results in characters who can actually LOSE instead of the just running on the treadmill of stalemates in an endless looping combat scenario. 

Ultimately, this is accomplished by keeping the numbers low, consolidating several function into one, and relying on the player's ability to justify the MANIFESTATION of the powers so central to superheroes in general.  At no time does your character feel buried under the weight of an overly busy character sheet! 

OneDice Super's 129 pages are cleanly laid out and very nicely illustrated in a way that utterly nails the spirit of the genre and recalls that excited feeling I got when I stumbled upon Champions back in 1983.  You see this in the sample characters, each of which is pure and undiluted CONCEPT that shines through its wonderfully uncluttered statistical expression.  Heroes at their finest!

There's more, of course, including rules for advancement and a specialized campaign setting, etc.  Everything the ambitious player needs to become a hero and fight the forces of evil, and all the creative Game Keeper needs to build an exciting setting. 

OneDice Supers is available from One Book Shelf in digital, soft, and hardcover formats.  Well worth getting if you love superheroes!


  1. I'm a big fan of the OneDice games. I haven't read the Super OneDice yet. But I adore the Pulp OneDice.

  2. Can this game handle Superman or Sliver Surfer power levels?

    Can it model Batman's ability to always have the right gadget for the job at hand? Can it model a Green Lantern Corps power ring?

    1. There are specific provisions for setting starting Ability and Power, ranging from Pulp to Cosmic (their words), so yes, it DOES account for this.

      If this isn't enough, it would be easy for the Game Keeper to grant, say, 10 or 20 starting Power to really make a powerful character, so it's hackable without having to invent new rules whole cloth.

      The High Sorcery Gift gives you access to every other Gift as a "spell", with power and recharge capacity based on Power points available, and this can be Tagged as cosmic energy, etc. So this is pretty doable.

      There are gadget provisions, and, again, High Sorcery could be Tagged as special gadgets at the ready in proper Batman style...

      Don't know much about the Green Lantern Corp, but you get the idea.

    2. My question is whether or not you can have these different power levels side by side. I know Marvel Heroic Roleplaying managed this by abstracting elements into narrative terms. (Rather than the Hulk having a strength of 100 and Captain America having a strength of 20—this just a wild guess; I have no clue how their respective strengths compare to each other—the system assign dice to things that were most important to the characters. Hulk has a d12 associated with his "godlike" strength and endurance while Cap has a d12 associated with the durability of his shield.) Does OneDice Supers allow for that kind of abstraction?

  3. Thanks for this review - Talon is very smiley right now! :-) Is it OK if we quote this in a publicity email we're sending out via DriveThruRPG? We're not allowed to put links to external sites, unfortunately.

  4. Would anyone please be kind enough to do a Justice League writeup for Batman and Superman in game stats? I want to see how these characters look before I decide to buy this game.

    Can the gadgets stuff allow Batman to pull out just the right gadget for any occasion?

  5. I was actually working on a homebrew supers system and decided to take a typing break to continue reading your blog when I came across this post. Picked up a copy immediately (and a print copy on the way!). Thanks for featuring it. :)