A Quick Peep at DC Adventures Quick Start

I'm a huge fan of superhero role-playing games. Mayfair's DC Heroes is right up there as one of the games I've most played and with the most players. I also have Blood of Heroes, GURPS Supers, TSR's Marvel Super Heroes, Marvel Universe, Underworld, Stuporpowers!, Necessary Evil and even a couple Champions products. There are gaps in my collection of course, especially in post-2000 stuff, and I come to Green Ronin's new DC Adventures a complete noob to both Mutants & Masterminds and d20. But of course, being a glossy RPG based on my favorite superhero universe, it's peaked my interest. (Not to say I won't be checking out the rerelease of Villains & Vigilantes and ICONS, but that's for another day.) Recently, Green Ronin released a Quick Start pdf for the game and it looks really neat. (I'm also looking at the DCAdv blog for more information.) What do I think?

System
I played a lot of 80s and early 90s games and kept playing them for the longest time. It's only recently that I've added newer games to my collection and I see a lot of the same concepts across these games. I recognize a lot of what I see in DCAdv from both Savage Worlds and Doctor Who (a Unisystem derivative), two games I've gotten into this year. Adding traits together + roll. Advantages with mechanical functions. Degrees of success. Levels of damage rather than hit points, including a "Shaken"-type condition. Easily applied modifiers. Hero points (a standard for many old school supers games, but here very much in the SW Bennies mold). I feel right at home despite not necessarily understanding what everything on the sample characters means. One thing that ISN'T here per se, is the character generation system (obviously). This is usually the star of any superhero game, but I can only infer it from looking at character stats. The game will apparently feature a sort of benchmark table that is so useful in converting power ranks to real world measurements.

Abilities, Powers, Skills, Advantages and Complications
I was very curious as to how stats scaled in DCAdv. That's always one of the challenges. You have to represent both Jimmy Olsen and Superman with the same system and not wind up with a character that has 1 billion Strength. DC Heroes had a wonderful exponential scale, and I think DCAdv has something similar. Since stats are actually the modifiers you add to your die roll, average is 0. That means particularly weak, dumb, etc. characters can go as low as -2, while superheroes of the highest order might go as high as 20. Since you roll a d20, difficulty numbers will go from 0 (weaklings could still fail) to 40 (nearly impossible even for Superman). There's en elegance to that I like.

The way powers are built seems a little crunchy and generic to me, but I'm not saying that's bad. DC Heroes had entirely too many powers that were just the same except based on fire, electricity, cold, etc. A more generic, modular system would have been more simple and open-ended. Superboy is a good example to use because he has such a wide array of powers. I'm really interested to see how they built his tactile telekinesis (which has 3 power stunts, at least that's what I call them) attached to it. This gives me hope you can build any kind of crazy powers concept with this game.

One thing I notice that breaks with older games like DCH and MSH is how much more skill-based it is. I don't know if there will actually be more skills than those earlier games, but they've certainly made skills more relevant. Characters will not necessarily have skills. It won't just be the province of Batman types. I like that. Characters need both Close and Ranged Combat skills to use their powers effectively, as well things like Perception, Insight, Deception, Persuasion and Investigation. To me, that makes for a more rounded character, and encourages both interaction and investigation, important in adventure creation. We don't get explanations of the characters' Advantages here, but they look like Savage World Edges to me, with clear modifier effects on combat and other actions, as opposed to more colorful "comic book" advantages we used in DCH. So it's All-out Attack and Extraordinary Effort as opposed to Connections and Insta-Change, though these might be in the game too. Knockout has Attractive (which DCH had) and Improved Initiative (like Lightning Reflexes). I'm a bit sad the names for things don't have more comic book flavor, but otherwise I like how many Advantages seem to serve as moves for the hero. While it's hard to justify improving powers over a number of role-playings sessions, improving skills and getting new "moves" (I guess they used to be called Feats) is much more logical.

The Encounter
The Quick Start features a simple encounter (read: fight) between Superboy and Knockout at the Smallville fair. It explains some of Knockout's strategies against the player hero and features a little map of the fairgrounds. Fights can be huge set pieces when done right, and the map is evocative enough to make this a good one. And sometimes, an encounter like this is enough to hang a whole adventure on. Just give Knockout a reason to be there, role play Connor going out to the fair with his adopted Ma, and it plays fine.

Product Announcements
Green Ronin's plans for this game are probably what will make me buy it. First, the full color package is really nice. Second, while the Hero's Handbook stats out relatively few characters, the next couple books are a veritable Who's Who of characters from the DCU. I use that title - Who's Who - very consciously. DC promised a new Who's Who starting in May and we haven't seen hide nor hair of it. This may be our only shot, and it comes in two full-color 320-page volumes. There are over 300 entries for characters and teams in all. Looks like a Christmas gift to me. If Aquaman's entry from the Hero's Handbook is anything to go by, multiple eras of each character will be discussed. Classic Aquaman is supplemented by sections on his harpoon and water hands, for example. Splat books have limited gameplay value since players usually like to play Their Own Heroes, but they're nonetheless the bread and butter of licensed superhero RPGs. We just like seeing how various characters are simulated by the game.

The other product is DCAdv: Universe, which I guess is a setting book, or more accurately, a settingS book. It looks at all eras of the DCU and the Cosmos beyond Earth. It's a revamp of DCH's Atlas of the DC Universe, which is a cool little volume even for simple comics fans, as it geographically places Gotham, Metropolis and Markovia. I'm really curious to see what they'll do with these ideas, in full color graphics no less.

The question I'm asking myself though is if there'll be strong adventure support (it IS called DC Adventures, after all). I'm a GM on the go, and I don't always have time to prepare some of the more involved plots that published scenarios can sometimes offer. What have you got for me on that front, Green Ronin?

Buy?
That's a big affirmative, friends. What I'm seeing here looks cool for the comics fan, and you know, I might even play it. Retire my old favorite, DC Heroes? It could happen!

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