Superheroes, by way of Mouse Guard

I’ve owned the Mouse Guard RPG since it was initially released (I think I might even have pre-ordered it…) and I’ve found it to be a very intriguing game. I’ve even managed to actually play it, which is more than I can say for a lot of games I’ve been “intrigued” by.

Recently, I’ve adapted some of the core mechanisms of the game (mainly the conflict mechanics) for use in a simple, but robust superhero game. I wrote about it in my blog here. And someone commented that I should share a bit on this forum.

I’m not really sure where to start. I give a broad overview of how I adapted the system in my blog post. Basically, every character has two stats which should seem familiar (Stamina for physical stuff and Willpower for non-physical stuff). They also each have five “Power Slots.” In a normal situation (one resolved with a single roll), a power slot adds 1d to any stat test where it would make sense. A “Super-strength” power slot would add 1d when you try to lift something heavy or bust in a door. A “Plant Control” power slot might help if you were being chased through the woods. And if you have more than one “Super-strength” slot, then they all add when any one of them would.

Which I think is a really easy way to deal with powers when you have something as abstract as the basic resolution mechanics of Mouse Guard: one roll, and you know who won, how well they did, and you can figure out the results that follow. The problem I ran into was this: players in superhero games (particularly my guys) want to be able to be mechanically distinct from each other, to be able to point out how their character’s powers differ from the other characters’. Luckily for me, there is already a similar abstract/detailed distinction in Mouse Guard: tools… or, you know, stuff you carry around with you that helps.

In basic rolls, you can get a +1d for having an appropriate tool. And in conflict rolls, the tools you use (like weapons) are very distinct, some adding to Attack actions, some to Maneuvers, and some applying penalties to certain actions. Since my concept for “power slots” seemed roughly analogous to tools in basic resolution, I figured I could let players design the bonuses and penalties that their powers supplied in detailed resolution, and to which kinds of conflicts they apply. Thus, you get super-strength (which adds to actions involving, well, strength) and you also get to define it as “+1d Attack, +1s Attack” by spending some points on those bonuses.

With some limits in place about how you buy the various modifiers, I think it worked really well. I also added in a set of mechanics that focus the game on more superhero-y stuff, but it’s actually relatively uncomplicated beyond that. And that’s really what I was looking for. I wanted a simple game, that was robust enough to handle a bunch of different powers, but didn’t become weighed down buy a laundry list of modifiers and effects.

If anyone wants to talk about what I did, I suppose that’s why I’m posting this thread. If not, well, I enjoyed it, and my group is probably going to play it again with what we learned from the last session. So, feel free to ask questions. I’d love to discuss it.

This is right down my alley. I love the fact that you took the basic structure of MG and reformed it to meet the needs of a superhero genre.

After I get my Star Trek hack to the point of stopping, superheroes will be my next point of interest.

I think this is great! I was talking to a friend just the other day about how a heroes game would be fun. I think we’ll go with a gloranthan sailors game instead, but still…
I worked up a list of spells using a similar idea as yours, namely representing them as “weapons” in the extended conflict mechanics. This sounds even more promising as a way to make cool superpowers - as effective for mind control and regeneration as for fiery bolts and flying.

I’m interested in how you rationed out the ability to buy the various modifiers.

Thanks for replying, I’m glad to see people are interested.

All characters have a “power level,” and for the game we played, I set it to five. This gave them five power slots and five points to buy power modifiers. Right now (that is, without a whole lot of play-testing), each bonus (+1d or +1s to a particular action) costs one point, and each penalty (-1d to a particular action) reduces the cost by one. Players can have a number of modifiers (positive or negative) on a power equal to their power level, and no more than half of that limit can be a particular bonus.

In a conflict, you have one power active at a time, and you have to spend a Hero Point between exchanges to change which power it is. Hero Points can also be spent to do things like add dice, give extra healing checks (to recover from conditions), and “monologue” or “flashback” to introduce new stuff into the game or explain how your character prepared for a situation.

The one last thing I put in was a “flexible” keyword for certain power slots. If a power slot is particularly broad in scope (like “Magic” or “Gadgetry”), and would thus apply to basically any test, you have to spend one of your power points to make it flexible. Any time during the game, you can spend a hero point to define what it is applying to (say, “Fireball” or “Grappling Hook”) and it remains that way until you spend another hero point to once again redefine it.

How are you awarding/assigning Hero Points?

The players started with 10 hero points, and could gain more by “holding back” (voluntarily taking a penalty) or when one of their motivations (e.g. Lois Lane, Metropolis, Justice) was threatened/destroyed due to a conflict. Players could also be rewarded hero points based on how well they did during the game.

I’m wondering if I should post the files I’ve made? I’ve got the full rules (which might be a bit much), a character sheet and a reference sheet. That might make it easier to talk about.

Please do this!!! :d

I should say that I’ll be play-testing a new combat action (called Reverse) the next time we manage to play this together, so it’s in the current versions of the file.

Anyway, I’ve put the files on mediafire (blech) here:

Download to your heart’s content.