Classically, tabletop role playing games (RPGs) are based around high fantasy. Dungeons & Dragons is the quintessential game that nearly every other RPG has been at least partially based on. High fantasy isn’t the only genre explored by role playing games, though. Another common genre is the superhero genre. These games, while rarer, still allow for the telling of great stories and lots of fun. If you are looking for a good superhero tabletop RPG, the following are the best of the best.
5. Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game – One of the final games published by TSR before it was taken over by Wizards of the Coast, this was a rare game published under the SAGA system. The key difference between this game and most other RPGs is that all actions are resolved by playing cards and the players actually choose what card to play, rather than relying on the vagaries of luck. The ability to control fate encapsulates the feel of comic book storytelling incredibly well and allows for much more cinematic storytelling between GM and player. Poorly defined rules and system mastery issues marred an otherwise interesting game mechanic, but if you are looking for a system that puts moderate narrative control in the hands of the players, this is the game for you.
4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness – The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have a surprisingly enduring popularity and this system is just about the only one in existence that translates the feel of that universe to a tabletop RPG. Not only can you play a mutant turtle, but you can play a mutant of almost any animal type in existence. Additionally, nearly every other Palladium book is compatible with this one, which means you can add Ninjas & Superspies or RIFTS rules to the game, if that suits the type of story you’d like to tell. The major flaw of this rule system is that it is incredibly clunky and has a very steep learning curve. Still, character creation is unbelievably fun. So fun, in fact, that you might just make a whole bunch of characters you never even use.
3. Aberrant – If you are a fan of the George R.R. Martin Wild Cards series, this game is absolutely perfect for you. Aberrant is a game set in a world where a few people have developed Superman level superpowers that are slowly driving them all insane. In addition to being a superhero game, like most everything published by White Wolf, Aberrant is also partially a horror game. The creativity of the powers and the depth of ideas are brilliant. Unfortunately, as is also common with White Wolf games, game balance severely suffers in the name of world building. This game probably has more trap choices than any other White Wolf game ever made, which is an impressive, if disappointing, feat. But, if you can move past the imbalance, this is the perfect game for telling stories like those found in Wild Cards or Watchmen.
2. Mutants and Masterminds – This game is pretty much the superhero version of 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons. This means that is shares both the advantages and disadvantages of that system, both of which are meaningful. The advantages are simple. The system is familiar to most tabletop RPG players, the structured mechanics are well tested and simple to learn, the game is relatively balanced at early levels, and there is a lot of room for character customization. Unfortunately, like most d20 games, the strict level structure is conceptually limiting, game balance suffers as levels increase, and system mastery is pretty much required. Also, due to an attempt to make the power system more universal, powers are not quite as versatile as in most superhero games. Even with these flaws, you can pretty much design most any comic book hero you can imagine and campaigns are incredibly easy to run for even the most inexperienced GM.
1. Champions – Without a doubt, this is by far the most complex of all of the superhero RPGs previously mentioned. Character creation is so flexible that it is nearly impossible to come up with a concept that can’t be created. A side effect of this is that it is rather easy to create a brand new character that can literally destroy the world. But that can be prevented with a little GM intervention. And once everyone is on the same page, you can use the Champions system to create a world where anyone can play the hero that they have always dreamed of. And the part is that the rules are tight enough that all of these strange powers work together almost seamlessly. If you are trying to tell a superhero story and flexibility of character creation is your goal, this is the best system to do it in.