Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Why Hasn't Anyone Improved On FASERIP?

Ok, I do love the Marvel Superheroes RPG but, seriously: It's 2016. Marvel Superheroes RPG came out some time before the Roman Conquest. Why isn't there a better superhero RPG yet? W. T. eff?

To establish context, let's start with the game's massive flaws:

-Character Generation Is Basically A Big Shrug
The only way to make a character is just make them up and ask the GM "is this ok?" or else roll powers totally randomly. This is fun d10 times and then you start going "Ok, can my fish man have fish powers instead of Blimp Control?" The little bibs and bobs around the edges--Aliens have a 5% chance of being able to lift 75 tons, Robots have a 2% chance, Mutants never can--seem to be aiming at genre conventions only Jeff Grubb could see. In a niche where it's already very hard to get the players to keep a straight face, Marvel's character gen system does not help.

-Low-Powered Heroes Feel Alike:
Well ok Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu, he'd have....Martial Arts A, B, C, D, and E, surely? I mean, he's not the fucking Bachelor of Kung Fu. And Captain America has...the same. There's no real way to have Cap be unbelievably hardcore and Shang Chi to be also unbelievably hardcore but in a different style.

-Magic is Half-Assed:
Just like in the comics, really. In the basic set it's just like regular powers except called 'magic', with the special magic book it's suddenly immensely complicated to the point of almost being a whole new game. Plus lots of Michael Golden pictures of Dr Strange.

-Without the Ultimate Powers Book You're Screwed. With It, You're Also Screwed:
In the basic set Energy Absorption just allows you to avoid damage from energy but not to like do anything with it. Which is how energy-absorbing powers work in exactly no comic books ever. But then so you get the Ultimate Powers Book and you can have it work like you expect but then like there are tons of wonkily-written accidental hyperpowers like Temperature Control that basically let you kill anyone instantly.

-Leveling Up Isn't Interesting:
Your stats incrementally go up with experience. Today you're Spider-Man, but tomorrow you'll be...stronger Spider-Man.

-It's from 213 AD:
Elektra's dead, Ice Man's in the closet, Iron Man is red and white with triangles holding his arms on. Also Ronald Reagan is president. This is worse than the Wildstorm universe.

Why Is It The Best Anyway?

-Character Gen Will Not Sap Your Will To Be
Character gen in Marvel may be a mess, but unlike in Champions and its descendants Mutants & Masterminds and Wild Talents, it's not trench warfare. These systems want to help you make new superpowers. which is nice because lots of gamers like to invent new superpowers--but unfortunately only a relative wee few want to sit alone and learn what amounts to a proprietary analog programming language just to make a character. Like I said before: a system that makes a new player choose between Enhanced Disarm and Disarming Finesse is not for anyone I know.

-Combat Is Unpredictable And Kinetic
Damage is standardized in FASERIP--a She-Hulk punch pretty much always does 75 health. But this simplification is made to allow space in the standard combat round for a greater complexity--namely, a degrees-of-success system which means the game tells you whether that punch just hurts, stuns the opponent, or knocks them through a wall. Same goes for every other kind of damage. This is FASERIP's main and indispensible feature: the 4-color chart ably and easily makes every category of comic-book attack from kicking to slicing to setting a mother on fire feel and work a different way--especially once you get the hang of the dodge and evasion mechanics for the weaker, quicker characters. You can have a session that's nothing but one long fight and like it--just like a comic. Compared to FASERIP, everything else is just D&D with shinier clothes on. Except Wild Talents which is just roll roll FUCK WHAT HAPPENED THIS TIME I DON'T KNOW HOLD ME I'M SCARED.  And Marvel Heroic which is just playing Artisanal Yahtzee and then claiming those dice represented something Deadpool did.

-Karma means Hippies and Metalheads can play together:
The FASERIP karma system--basically spendable xp--is neat in itself because it warps combat and risk based on how much a PC has managed to spotlight themself. The nice thing about this is you can get karma for defeating foes or role-playing or just acting heroic and responsible--so the guy who spent all morning properly working out Hawkeye's struggle to get his DVD player plugged in and the player who is worried about whether the Widow's Bite can be used to feed-back through the electrical system and short-circuit the mandroid can easily have fun during the same fight because the former's community theatre aspirations add as many karma points to their attack roll as the latter's tactical chops. Shoepixie loves this game. Proving Ron Edwards was wrong for like the 90th time.

-Actual Good Adventures:
Marvel Superheroes holds the record for RPG with the most official published adventures that do not suck: 2. Nightmares of Future Past and Secret Wars.  And not just because they're inoffensive and based on fondly-remembered storylines: they're genuinely avant-garde even today--with Nightmares being designed around a nifty paranoia mechanic overlaid on your hometown and Secret Wars presenting a hex-war with random events slotted in. These were really good ideas for adventures in that neither-full-railroad-nor-fully-location-based netherzone of module formats nobody ever bothers to follow up on, so far as I know. Plus on top of that, the other adventures aren't terrible, owing perhaps to every RPG writer secretly having a slowly-nursed Marvel pitch in their back pocket for years--Cosmos Cubed has Galactus being split into weird entities named Gal, Ac and Tus.

-It's All Free:

-Nobody Else Is Trying
The major game companies seem to be perfectly happy with slide-rule crunchmonsters that keep all but the most dedicated nerds away and the smaller ones are going for light-and-airy approaches where the players and GM make up all the surprises themselves and the game just tells you who wins. Which is weird, because you'd think in this era where there are live DC and Marvel shows all over tv, the Avengers movies are selling faster than flak jackets in Damascus and even a fucking Suicide Squad movie can afford Will Smith and Jared Leto somebody would see the angle in a fast-paced, newbie-friendly superhero RPG with a rich library of powers to play with and a system that keeps throwing monkeywrenches into any attempt to play boring. And the shame of it is all they'd really have to do is set their targets on the few places where FASERIP falls down and build on what Grubb and company already did.


Robert Conley said...

In my view is that beyond love for the game, how would profit from a improved FASERIP? Right now it all wink wink nudge nudge from the IP holders. Granted Marvel and WoTC are being nice about this than other similar fan base efforts.

If it does happen it will be because somebody to came up with a close enough clone and built it up a community to support it and play it.

Adam Dickstein said...

I thought ICONS was sort of FASERIP meets FATE, or some such. No good?

Wish I could think of others, but when I play Supers it's either Kapow! (light and airy), or Champions 4E (trench warfare).

Zak Sabbath said...

nothing involving FATE could ever be good

Anonymous said...

Exactly right on all counts. I love FASERIP! But hated making characters. I still have my scribbled artwork and char sheet for my first character the dreaded Aardvark Man. BTW artisanal Yahtzee intrigues me.

Simon Proctor said...

Faserip did get rewritten without the Marvel and released as 4Color Heroes or something like that.
I remember helping to fund it back in the day.

Zak Sabbath said...

yeah there are a few scrub-ups of FASERIP.

If they fixed charging damage, I'll check them out.

sirkerry said...

It's just called the Four Color System, it's free on DriveThruRPG, here's the link to it:

sirkerry said...

Huh, there's another retro-clone of MSH that came out last year called FASERIP, here's the link:

Sophie Lynne said...

I LOVED Champions before they screwed it up. Yes, making characters was hard, but after that, it was an easy, elegant system. Besides, "the hard is what makes it good. "

bblackmoor said...

There is a list of superhero RPGs taller than my house, and it's getting taller every day -- from "make it up and ask the GM" all the way to "this makes Champions look rules-light", and everywhere in between. If you can't find the just-right spot for you in that vast spectrum, you either aren't trying, or you are really, really picky.

Personally, I'm really picky, which is why I wrote Bulletproof Blues. But for normal people, there's probably at least a half-dozen games that work perfectly fine.

Konsumterra said...

one retro clone proudly boasted about not needing resolution table

the very good marvel rpg fan web page has done what plenty have done and expanded martial arts - cap can stun or slam anything which could be better than unearthly strength at times

there are 4 methods of character design in advance book - ive used about three of my own over my 20 year long campaign - im happy to develop new ones for new games

i do agree it is the best hero game ever - marvel should have bought it off tsr

jules said...

Thank you.

Before I discovered FASERIP to run a superhero game everyone kept telling me "Use FATE?" "Have you heard of FATE?" "FATE is what you need!" And it wasn't. It's garbage.

Zak Sabbath said...

Garbage that funds a misogynistic sociopath.

23 said...

Just a heads-up, you have a link over the four-color chart that doesn't go anywhere: "makes a new player choose"...

Zak Sabbath said...


Charles A. Wright said...

Marvel Superhero's FASERIP system is my #1 only for reasons of nostalgia. Without that edge it's tied for #1 with "Aberrant" from White Wolf.

Onyx Path Publishing is re-doing the original system and will be releasing a new edition in the coming years.

I also feel that White Wolf's "Scion" is essentially a superhero game (although lacking in skintight costumes and capes).

Zak Sabbath said...

If it's from Onyx Path it'll suck.

Purple Duck Mark said...

4C was a retro clone of FASERIP that is also freely available.

Ariastes said...

I have to throw in a vote for G-Core. It is heavily based off FASERIP but gets rid of the chart in favor of a simple d10+stat resolution system.

I have played it a good bit and it does a great job emulating FASERIP but is easier easier for pick up and go games since all you need is the character sheet and 1d10. I have ran it for my niece who was 12 at the time and we had a great time. I've had the same luck with running it for a buddy over a G+ meetup with just as good results.

Best of all I have yet to find anything for FASERIP that can't be converted to G-Core.

Unknown said...

ICONS isn't FATE... more like someone rebuilt FASERIP using FUDGE as the basis. I can't stand FATE, I'm generally not that fond of FUDGE, but I LOVE ICONS, and it has basically replaced FASERIP for me. And I say that with much of the FASERIP line sitting on an easily accessible shelf, because it was still getting played until a couple years ago (when ICONS came out).

True, ICONS is not set in the MARVEL universe, but conversion, particularly from all the freely downloadable FASERIP material, is trivial.

ICONS also captures the feel of the vast majority of the conventions and quirks of FASERIP, including Karma and differing results (e.g., hit, slam, stun) from an attack, all without needing a chart.

Another plus for ICONS is that there are a number of published adventures, and some of them are really very good. Well-designed, non-railroady, interesting adventures.

I can't see myself ever going back to play the original FASERIP for more than a nostalgic one-shot.

BillionSix said...

There is this:
It's basically Marvel, but has some stuff mixed in from other games.

BillionSix said...

I am a fan of BASH! It's sort of Champions but much less crunchy. It has a Hero Points mechanic to let Black Widow and Thor be on the same team and still have a bit of balance.

Adamantyr said...

I mostly played GURPS Supers, which from what I've gathered was at best considered a "Champions wanna-be".

The biggest issue I experienced with it was GURPS breaks down when you push super powers and super attributes into the mix. Plus... it isn't all that super.

Because GURPS models exact damage levels of modern weapons and armor, super-powered characters are not really all that impressive. Short of taking invulnerability advantages, you can't really make a character who can take tank shells head-on and survive. It's works pretty well for a more down-to-earth campaign though. (The Wild Cards book was well done.)

Unknown said...

G-Core is the Modern FASERIP update. You can run FASERIP modules out of book and it allows for a more even handed character creation system, allowing for games with Silver Surfer and Thor, something the original wouldn't let you do. Talents was replaced with Special Focus. And we dumped the table and made it a simple 1d10%. G-Core was playtested by my daughters (multiple ages) and my gaming group. It won the 2014 Bamfsies Players Choice Award and was featured on episode 1 of TSR's Game School Podcast. I'd even be willing to comp G-Core PRIME to this blog. Everything you need to know about G-Core can be found at:
There is even a Yahoo Group with Marvel Fan Files, along with other odds and ends ranging from a Star Wars freebie to Penguins of Madagascar.

Uncle Matt said...

Nice roll on your Reason FEAT there. One thought to throw into the mix: After a lot of play, I've started seeing the slow/nonexistent leveling as a feature instead of a bug. Once your character is at the edge of plausibility (Excellent or Remarkable), they won't change much, so the game becomes one of using the same toolset in new ways to solve new problems. That kinda emulates how most serial superhero comics work, especially the ones contemporary to this game.

Unknown said...

I'll add that Character Generation can take from 5 to 10 minutes depending on the Origin, and still has all the goodness with less daunting filler crap.

Zak Sabbath said...

The art is so bad I can't imagine any of the design decisions being good. But I'd be willing to look at it.

Zak Sabbath said...

"games with Silver Surfer and Thor, something the original wouldn't let you do"

What are you even on about?

Zak Sabbath said...

Genre emulation is never the #1 priority. You want a game that keeps you interested....

littlemute said...

I'd love to see a BRP supers game by Design Mechanism based on RQ6 using the Marshal Law license. I don't think those guys would touch this genre with your 10 foot pole though. Otherwise there's Feng shui.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

You couldn't create those style characters. You could generate something far lesser, but not someone who could stand against Thor or the Surfer. G-Core fixes that.

Zak Sabbath said...

Not using the random system, but you can:

- 100% just play Silver Surfer and Thor they're in the judges book

-create them as modelled characters (one of the 3 options)

-play PCs of that level by rolling int he Ultimate Powers book

...but thanks for clarifying what you meant

Andrew Franke said...

I use the Hero System. I think it is complete and it works. Yes it has no art and learning it is a pain but once you are over that the system and character generation are BEAUTIFUL!

Unknown said...

It's not that bad. I drew it. :)

Jeremy Forbing said...

So, you never checked out the latest Marvel RPG from Margaret Weis's company, right?

Zak Sabbath said...

I read it, I played it, I interviewed the author and I mentioned it in this very blog entry.

It sucks.

Unknown said...

It does seem to be a love/hate kind of thing... personally, I kinda like it, but it's ultimately unimportant, as it has nothing to do with my own campaign.

Unknown said...

To another point you raised, I never really saw advancement in FASERIP as that bad. Aside from the use of Karma for being awesome (i.e., pumping a particular FEAT), it seems to me the best use (and the most genre appropriate) was for Power Stunts. After a few uses, these became a permanent part of your character, not unlike how supers extending their powers was handled in the source material. Add in the very occasional ability boost, and you're pretty much matching comic-book style character advancement.

George Q said...

You mention Mutants and Masterminds specifically in the context of clunky character generation - I imagine any system with point buy and huge powers list would fail that test.

That being the case, do you find that's the main problem of M&M or similar systems? Is it the setup time is too hard? Would playing it with pre-gens be workable or are there bigger turn-offs for you under the hood?

(Asking as man who has run superhero games and has tried different systems in that time - M&M 3E works good for me but most of the players just picked pre-gens, only the real crunch-head designed someone himself.)

pseudo said...

FASERIP is very good, for all the points you've mentioned.
I also like Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game, which plays with cards, in a similar fashion as Dragonlance 5th age (the SAGA system).
It has pretty much the same feeling than FASERIP with unpredictable combats, fast paced mechanics, and some good scenarios. there's even a conversion table for characters from FASERIP.
Weak points are essentially the same, character creation is bad and the character advancement is quite light. It seems that these issues are typical in super heroes games. Also the Karma rules for characters alignment is better executed in FASERIP.

Jeremy Forbing said...

If that's your opinion, then maybe your view on FASERIP falls into the "stuff I think is awesome because it hit me when I was 12" category? Or maybe our experiences just differ. I ran original Marvel for 3 years on the regular back in the day, and kept a Mutants & Mastermind game going for about half that time a few years back. I basically like 'em both fine, but the flaws in both systems became chores after constant use. I've played "artisanal Yahtzee" longer than both, as it solves some of the problems you list in your post and more besides. It was the first supers RPG I ever played where I actually felt like a superhero in play, that level of freedom and potential. It's also the first game I played where Shang-Chi and Thor could be in the same group and Shang would feel unique and not useless, yet Thor wouldn't be punished for being powerful. That version of Marvel is the one I've stuck with fairly consistently since it came out and I'm still not tired of. From the one reference above, I figured maybe you'd read it but not played it, and the faked that you gave it some play and hated it is a head-scratcher for me, except that obviously we're all different people who like different shit. Probably goes without saying could engage with your criticisms differently if there were more specifics than "it sucks" and the Yahtzee reference, but as things sit right now I'm just gonna keep thinking the MWP Marvel was the greatest superhero RPG of all time and that it's not your flavor because you're on that kick where the 70's/80's were the RPG Golden Age. Which a lot of people are, including guys I respect, and I think I get why, but I disagree. I think the zillions of RPGs that have come out since those sensibilities were set were not merely misguided wanderings away from the true teachings of classic TSR. I think there was some evolution in the last 25 or so years. But like I said, different people like different shit, I guess.

Zak Sabbath said...

true. but i was thinking how major changes also come from plot events

Zak Sabbath said...

DC Heroes has a less clunky pointbuy

But as I said: M&M makes a beginning player choose between "Enhanced Disarm" (or is it "advanced?") and "Disarming Finesse" --this is an example of the kind of thing that makes it inaccessible. See the linked article for more details.

Pre-gens are impossible--I wouldn't ask my friends to invest in a campaign built on pre-gens. You want access to the system.

Point buy has never been perfected, but I think it can be way better than what we have so far.

Zak Sabbath said...

"If that's your opinion, then maybe your view on FASERIP falls into the "stuff I think is awesome because it hit me when I was 12" category?"

Of course not--and your logic is terrible:

"Because you don't like the same game as me, I am ignoring all of the things you wrote and assuming the appeal is based on some shit I pulled out of my butt and then repeat what it says in the a sales pitch for the game"

As to the specifics:

-"the first supers RPG I ever played where I actually felt like a superhero in play, "

This is not a game goal for me. I do not play for escapism. I want to solve interesting problems in the game.

-"the first game I played where Shang-Chi and Thor could be in the same group and Shang would feel unique and not useless,"

Not a desirable game goal for me. I don't want the game to ape a comic book, I want the game to present me with the problem of being Shang Chi and therefore way less powerful than Thor on paper and still having to defeat him via cleverness.

"I'm just gonna keep thinking the MWP Marvel was the greatest superhero RPG of all time and that it's not your flavor because you're on that kick where the 70's/80's were the RPG Golden Age. "

It is sickening that you'd start out by assuming the other party's desires were not based on anything rational or simply different taste.

You definitely need to apologize to anyone who had to read that.

You like a game because you want different things from it than I do--assuming any more is pretty much just insane arrogance.