My experience with DC Adventures RPG Hero’s Handbook: Super-Hero Roleplaying in the DC Universe
If you know me, you know I’m all about Dungeons & Dragons. Other RPGs are good for a break, from time to time. I enjoy the occasional World of Darkness mini-campaign, or an occasional Gamma World one-shot. All other things being equal, I’d rather just play D&D.
Last Friday marked the release of The Green Lantern in movie theaters. One of my friends is a huge GL geek, and since it was the off week for my regular D&D campaign, I thought I’d get some folks together and make a day of it. We saw the 11:15 matinee, followed by lunch at the local Chinese buffet. We finished off the day with some super hero RPG at my place.
I decided to use DC Adventures for the game. I did this for several reasons:
- I thought a DC-based game would be fitting, given the Green Lantern theme for the day.
- DC Adventures is built on Mutants & Masterminds, a solid d20 OGL product.
- Unlike various other supers RPGs, I actually own the book.
For the adventure, I chose the Emerald Knights I module, along with the freebie prelude download. I had five players at the table, each using an Emerald Knights pregen character. Overall, we had a blast, but I’d like to deconstruct the game a bit, and look at the individual components.
The Mutants & Masterminds Adventure
Because there isn’t much yet in the way of specifically DC-themed material, and because I didn’t have the time or desire to craft my own adventure, I relied on published material. Emerald Knights I is a solid heroes adventure. I think the best way to describe it is to compare it to a standard D&D adventure. Here’s how it differed:
- Out of 9 scenes (read: encounters), only 2 were combat-related. I like this emphasis on story. I think it fits well with the supers genre.
- Of those 9 scenes, 3 were entirely optional. That’s nice, because it lets player choice become a real factor in how the adventure goes.
- The combat scenes were poorly orchestrated. I’ve become used to the convenient format of today’s D&D adventures. I like the “tactics,” “features of the area,” “development,” and other sections in a typical D&D encounter. The adventure design could use some organization in that regard.
My players loved the story, and so did I. In fact, I’d say that the story was good enough to make up for the weakness in organization on the part of the designer. I give the adventure an A-.
The DC Adventures System
Now, here’s where we ran into some snags. At first glance, the system itself looked a lot like a transitional product between D&D 3.5 and D&D 4E (think Star Wars: Saga Edition). However, in terms of its execution, things panned out quite differently.
The first obstacle we faced was the poor organization of the character sheets. Each hero’s powers, advantages, skills, and other features were listed on their character sheets. However, there was nothing to indicate to my players where to find information about a given power. Rather than naming the power by the tag used in the book (“flight”, for example) the character sheets used flavor-rich names (“eagle’s wings,” in one case.) This made the process of becoming familiar with the pregen characters somewhat sluggish.
Granted – if we’d made characters from scratch, the players would have had an easier time with that aspect. The difficulty here may have been more in the design of the pregen sheets, rather than the organization of the rulebook.
The big problem we faced was in combat. The combat section of the book is a mere three pages. Yet, there are elements that contribute to the combat system throughout the book. The problem here is that the other sections in the book – which the combat section references by page number – directly contradict some of the info in the combat section.
In an ongoing campaign setting, this would probably not be a problem. You’d simply pick one way or the other to do things, and stick with it. As occasional players in a one-shot, it was time consuming, bulky, and confusing.
How I’ll Do It Next Time
I don’t think DC Adventures is a bad system. In fact, judging from all of the Mutants & Masterminds fans out there, I think it’s probably the best thing currently in production.
That said, I don’t think I’ll play it again. I may drop in to my FLGS and take a peek at the M&M core book – specifically the combat section. My guess is that it’s better organized, or at least more consistent. If not, I’ll shoot on over to eBay and find myself a copy of the TSR Marvel Super Heroes game we all know and love from the 80s. Hmmm… maybe it’ll be here in time for Captain America to hit the theater!