Review: “DC Adventures: Hero’s Handbook” RPG

DC AdventuresMy only major purchase at Gen Con was the DC Adventures: Hero’s Handbook RPG, which is an updated version of Mutants and Masterminds. After playing in a demo run by (I believe) game designer Steven Kenson, I was certain it was just the superhero flavor I had been looking for many moons. I haven’t run my own adventure yet, but I did play a demo. Here are my thoughts:

Critical Hits

  • Emphasizing Style Over Crunch: Make no mistake, this system is EXTREMELY crunchy. There are rules for the entire gamut of comic books, but the game does a great job emphasizing the difference between mechanics and the in-game explanation of powers. If you shoot a bolt of energy, it doesn’t matter if its fire, lightning, awesomeness, or willpower, it all has the same basic framework with tons of modifiers to suit your fancy.
  • Less to Track: There are no hit points, just conditions. As much as conditions piss me off in D&D 4e, they make a lot of sense in this setting. Heroes constantly get their bell rung, and the lack of tracking damage helps rationalize fights where Superman punches poor Ambush Bug in the face.
  • Active Combats: Saving throws act as a defense against all attacks. By eliminating the damage roll this simultaneously involves the defender without slowing the game down.
  • Passion and Understanding of the Genre: The book’s sidebars and major comments show the game designers both know comic books and know RPGs.
  • Archetypal Characters and Your Favorite DC Heroes: The book provides templates for a number of common character types, and some of the most famous DC heroes. Further supplements will feature practically the whole DCU. There’s something extremely cool about reading about Batman and Superman, realizing they both are done justice, and that they both fit together in the same universe. The Professor X paradox is solved!

Critical Misses

  • Typos. Too often I buy RPG products these days and they have simple spacing and spelling errors.

Results May Vary

  • Character Creation Learning Curve: Between knowing powers, remembering the restrictions different power levels put on characters, and figuring out how the heck to best translate an idea, there is A LOT to learn. This is the sort of system where the GM has to sit down with a character and really translate their stated goals into characters. That being said, it’s so versatile and elegant in its actual play that I can easily see using this system for virtually anything.
  • Complex Characters = Complex Play: While the core mechanic is refreshing streamlined players with viable character concepts involving certain powers will inevitably find themselves having a lot to manage. Shape changers, power mimickers, on the fly summoners, and whatnot may be overwhelmed by the scope of the superpowers they chose. To be perfectly fair, this is a problem inherit to the genre less so than the system, but the system does suffer from this.

Final Verdict: A. There’s very little this system can’t do. That makes it have a steeper learning curve than some other products, but as near as I can tell this system is capable of handling anything (and not just in the superhero genre). Action is fast, furious, and cinematic in a way that D&D and hit point based systems always seem to struggle with.

Available now in PDF or soon in print.

Comments

  1. Nice review! But I would like to know if this system is very much like the M&M 2nd edition. The combat is the same thing? Tracking damage didn´t change? I love M&M 2nd Ed, but I truly don´t like the tracking damage rules.

  2. TheMainEvent says:

    @Onor: I have never played any Mutants & Masterminds, so perhaps a commenter can answer better. To answer your question: attacks inflict status ailments (for lack of a better word) based up on the degree of success over an opponent’s defensive roll. Every five points of success beyond the increases the severity of the status ailment. I hope that helped!

  3. The big thing I noticed (after looking up stats for some of my favorite heroes) was that there seemed to be a lot of tables. Do you find there’s a lot of lookup during play or is a lot of that presented well in the character sheet?

  4. TheMainEvent says:

    @The Game: The first table is a damage chart for the math deficient: it shows damage take v. total rolled and how severe the effect is. I think with a reasonably good mental math DM this is not needed.

    The second major table is sort of the “All Purpose Table.” It shows each modifier (used in stats and for powers) and units of measure. By looking up your stat or power number on this chart you see how each power does based on its unit of measure. For instance, you look up ‘distance’ to tell how far a Speed or Flight Attribute lets you go.

    I’m planning on having a copy of each table for my players during my first session. I’ll let you know how much referencing is required.

  5. @Dave I’m pretty sure Kennon B. will be running an M&M (2e) game at DCGD, his Revolutionary War supers game, as well as Tracey Michienzi (n00b Ennies Judge Extraordinaire), who will be running a DC Adventures (3e) there as well. You’ll get a shot to check both out there, if you like.

    My experience with playing M&M (about a dozen or so times) is that there isn’t as much table-checking as you might think — like 4e, most of the character builder software packages give you everything you need on your character sheet, scaled to your PL … the GM might have to check a table or two ever so often, but it’s pretty intuitive once you travel the learning curve.

  6. I buyd this handbook because there are much informations about good playing and it offers the leaks of other player

  7. Full disclosure: I am a fanboy for Steve Kenson…. and I’m an unrepentant Rules Lawyer.

    I started playing M&M when it was in its first edition, and had migrated to it from Silver Age Sentinels. When M&M went to second ed, it was improved in every way that I could find. I’ve glazed over 3rd ed, but I have not been able to play it yet, but there are some things that I already love about it — the second chart you mention is a perfect example. A lot of times in a superhero game you have to determine things like how far away can the Flash get in 2 rounds, or how much further can Solomon Grundy throw a motorcycle than a truck?

    That chart is the Rosetta Stone for that, cross-referencing weight, speed, and distance in a simple formula, based entirely on the same “ranks” scale as all the powers and Attributes of the system:

    Distance = time + speed (how far can the Flash run in the 2 rounds left before the bomb goes off?)
    time = distance – speed (can GL make it to the Watch tower and back with the Antidote?)
    Throwing distance = strength – mass (how far can Solomon Grundy throw an Armored Car?)

    Boom, done.

    Of course, you can complicate things, like reducing Flash’s speed ranks by the mass ranks of the person he’s carrying, or Dr Fate could increase the mass of the motorcycle using magic to a point where Grundy couldn’t lift it… though as mentioned, certain powers like Shapechanging, mimickingpower stealing, and summoning have the possibility of being VERY unwieldy, and beyond all that, there will always be power combos that are dangerously unbalancing (Shrinking blasters, and Speedster-duplicates were a real problem in 2nd ed, and I can’t confirm that they won’t be in third) but any good GM will be able to work with the players to avoid that.

    All in all, the M&M system has yet to be unable to describe or fairly adjudicate anything I’ve been able to throw at it, and I see no reason to suspect that the third edition loses that ability.