Thursday, 13 March 2014

White Whales (Part Five)

A world where superhumans have changed the course of human history. 

A world of conflict, and consequences. 

A world gone mad.

The world of WILD TALENTS.

I have been a fan of Greg Stolze's One Roll Engine game system since its first iteration, in the gritty World War II superhero game GODLIKE. In an era where most of the popular games looked a lot alike (the all-d20-all-the-time early 2000s), the One Roll Engine was something fresh and exciting. It had the bloody, unforgiving level of detail you'd find in an old-school military game like TWILIGHT: 2000, but wrapped up under the hood of a sleek new Ferrari ready for you to push the pedal all the way to the floor. It also had Dennis Detwiller's long and detailed history of the war, ready to be tinkered with by superhumans with powers greater than the average Joe (while still refreshingly mortal). 

WILD TALENTS is the GODLIKE timeline spun forward to the modern day, with a revamped ORE under the hood and a badass coat of paint by Todd Shearer. Not only did it improve on the rules of the original and provide us with almost 70 years of new history to set our games against, it provided a robust toolkit (by luminary Ken Hite) for designing your own superheroic histories and creating gritty superhuman dramas of your own. Any one of these elements alone could have been the spine of a great game, but together...? 

You can almost hear that engine purr.

I've played a lot of superhero games over the years, and Stolze's game mechanics are among the tightest I've ever seen. There is enough flexibility in power creation to make highly detailed and fidgety powers, or the ability to make them simple and broad - garnish to taste. Although the default mode of the game is for gritty realism, which could leave heroes a little on the bloody and battered side at the end of a fight, there are a number of built-in tweaks that can adjust the game into more of a "four colour" mode. Either way, it plays FAST.

Most of the effort in the game is frontloaded on character creation, which is as complex (or simple) as you'd like it to be. There are also nifty goon rules so that the GM can throw a horde of unlucky, low-powered crooks at the heroes for a thorough whomping. Unless, of course, one of the mooks gets in a lucky shot...

Although the WILD TALENTS timeline is an excellent starting point for creating alt-history supers games, with a number of ready-to-play campaign concepts in the book associated with interesting historical moments (which could become more interesting yet, with the presence of superhumans in the mix), I have to admit that creating my own games is what really excites me. Ken Hite's "Four Colors" system is an excellent benchmark to use when creating your own superhuman histories, breaking down some important ideas about how the usual flow of history might change and how the game will feel thematically. There are also several published settings for the game, including the sensational Victorian KERBEROS CLUB book by Ben Baugh. 

I created two pitches for Wild Talents games last year, INSURGENCY and TRUE BELIEVERS, which I talked about here. One is a rock-em-sock-em "What If The Villains Won?" adventure where the heroes are struggling to overthrow an army of triumphant villains. The latter is more down-to-earth, examining some of the obsessive nature of superheroism through the lens of "real life superheroes". It speaks to the power and breadth of WILD TALENTS that it could handle both of these games with style. 

I've been considering what the One Roll Engine could do with a pulp game, if I were to use it instead of Fate (which I had always considered my go-to pulp game engine since SPIRIT OF THE CENTURY). But I'd also be game to just sit down together with a group of players and let them play with the toys themselves, to build a new supers world together. 

Now that would be wild.

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