It seems to me as though a lot of superhero RPG games have jumped into the market in the last few years. It makes sense, of course; we’re living in an age where big-budget superhero films are prevalent and more and more heroes are jumping from comics to the silver screen. It seems as if for every new blockbuster superhero movie, there’s a new supers game on the market. It’s a crowded RPG genre right now, and it’s tough to sometimes discern which supers RPG is right for a particular Game Master or group.
Today’s review is of the TRIUMPHANT! Super Heroic Roleplaying Game (yes, that’s the full title), the most recent title by Simon Washbourne at Beyond Belief Games. Washbourne and BBG are perhaps best known for their excellent Barbarians of Lemuria, although as a fair warning, I will say that game differs mechanically from Triumphant!. This is the 129-page pdf version, purchased through RPGNow. As mentioned above, Triumphant! is facing some serious competition from other supers games, so let’s see how it would measure up.
Triumphant! begins with the usual introduction, with Washbourne taking time to explain a bit about the overarching supers RPG genre, as well as define key terms to be used through the text. He also mentions the game is designed to be “light and heroic”, so there’s not a lot of built-in, Iron Age angst here (although I suppose there’s no reason it couldn’t be introduced, it isn’t a focus of the game).
The next chapter entails character creation, and begins by listing two dozen archetypes, ideas for characters that might be stuck on what type of superhero to play. These range from “Acrobat” to “Mentalist” to “Teleporter”, and are merely suggestions—not a mechanical template by any means.
The first table we come to deals with power level of the campaign, which will govern how many and which type of dice each player will receive. You’re going to start with more dice to allocate if you’re playing at the “Stellar Defender” level versus “Street Vigilantes” or “Local Heroes”. This is our first indication that the product uses a sort of step-die mechanic in play, and dice allocation for creating characters. Characters with a discrepancy in power level are balanced by the number of “Triumph Dice” they receive (more on those shortly).
Once you have your concept and power level sorted out, you allocate dice to your Conditions. Conditions are comprised of your Ego, Health and Reflexes. For each dice assigned, the level goes up one. So if the default of my Ego is a D4, and I assign a dice to it, it bumps to a d6. Depending on the level of your game, you might see anything from a D4 in a Condition or Skill (regular human) to 2D10 (Cosmic-level, noted in game as DD10).
Conditions are important because they are passively used as different damage tracks of a sort, as well as to resist certain types of attacks. So my Ego might be used to resist interrogation or mental attacks, my Health can be used to as a measure of resisting or taking physical harm, energy attacks, and the like, and Reflexes can measure how quickly I can get out of the way of something.
Skills are assigned in much the same way as conditions. You allocate your dice to the desired skill. There are 21 general skills, which cover the usual areas—from Perception to Animal Handling to Occultism to Socializing.
Skills bought at a higher level will have a specialty. If a skill has a die level than D6, then you’ll be choosing a specialty. For example, I take Survival at D8. My Survival skill would rate D6, but I’d be able to take a skill like Trapping at a D8. Each additional dice level would allow me to increase the number of specializations I have for my character.
For Powers, the dice type is equal to the dice type allocated; no counting steps. So if I put a D8 in Fast Healing, it’s going to be D8 on my sheet. You can bump up your dice if you give it a Limitation, such as tying a Mind Blast power to an amulet the character has to wear. That could raise it from a D6 to a D8, for example. A power Enhancement can provide a boon such as armor penetration, but correspondingly drops the dice level in return.
The game lists over 60 powers, and everything essential seems to be covered. Due to the nature of the mechanics, it would be extremely easy to add more powers as desired. The Powers section of the book is truly excellent about providing possible limitations or enhancements, and it feels like you could make plenty of characters very easily that didn’t feel the same or just slightly varied.
The slight difference in how Condition/Skills and Powers are allocated was momentarily confusing, but once I had made a few characters, I was generating characters in minutes.
When you’re done, you can add Benefits to your character to give them an edge, or perhaps just another sort of hook. Benefits can range from an animal companion to having a helpful companion or a totally awesome hideout (there’s an awesome section in here about building one that I absolutely loved). Of course, there are also Drawbacks, and you have to pick one for each Benefit taken. Drawbacks can be a nasty arch-nemesis, a terrible secret, or even old age.
Once the character is fleshed out, we get to Task Resolution and Combat. I really liked this section. For task resolution, you’re going to roll the relevant Skill or Power to see if you tie or exceed the Target Number for a success. What’s interesting is that if you’re using a Power, your Target Number will only be half compared to someone using a Skill. So a world-class gymnast using the Athletics skill might need to roll a 4 to complete a certain task, whereas the guy using his Super Agility power only needs to roll half the for a success. A character with top skills can make up for a lot, but superpowers are still, well, super.
Essentially, combat flows by matching a Power vs. another Power or Skill, with the differential going to damage. Stick with me, because this is actually very quick and clever in play.
The characters roll their Priority Die for initiative (the dice type is higher, based on your classification of hero. So Superman is likely to go ahead of the Mystery Men). The attacker then declares the Power or Skill they are using to attack, and the targeted defender responds with a Power or Skill they are using to try to stop the attack.
An attacker only attacks once per round, but a character can defend each round with as many ways as they have of defending. So if my Super Fast Guy is targeting by four different guys in a round, I could use my Super Speed to try to counter one attack, Super Agility for another, Precognition for a third, and my plain Athletics skill for the last. Part of the fun seems to be in figuring out just how you’re defending the attack.
If the defender rolls higher on his roll than the attacker, then the attack is blunted. If the attacker rolls higher, then the difference between the attacker and defender’s result is noted, and applied (by Defender’s choice, assuming they have a good explanation—the book otherwise provides guidelines) to Ego, Health, and Reflexes. It's important to note skills-based and normal weapon attacks do half-damage compared to Powers-based attacks--in keeping with the earlier notes on task resolution.
Combat Example: Super Speedy Guy uses his Super Speed (D8) to create a tornado around Doctor Cretin. Dr. Cretin attempts to stop the attack with his Pyrokinesis, creating a flame wall around him. Super Speedy Guy rolls a 6, whereas Dr. Cretin only rolls a 4. 6-4=2, which means Dr. Cretin takes 2 steps of damage. That speedy tornado cuts through and blasts him solidly. Dr. Cretin's player decides the damage comes off of his Health, dropping it from a D8 to a mere D4.
If a Condition drops below a D4, it goes to a D3, which indicates an extremely weakened level. If a condition drops to zero, any additional damage is carried over to one of the other conditions and the character is out of the fight for the rest of the scene. If all three conditions drop to zero, the character is out of commission, and probably in really bad place.
There are rules for combo attacks (teamwork), taking an aggressive stance, delaying—all the little tactics that can make combat really come to life. All of is easily understandable, and shouldn’t require any additional work on the part of the group.
Remember at the start of this interview, when I mentioned disparate power levels could be smoothed out a bit by Triumph Dice? Well, that’s also covered in this section. Triumph dice allow for the some special effects to “level the playing field”, so to speak. These effects can be to instantly take out a group of mooks, temporarily add an enhancement or drop a limitation from a power, re-roll, or max out a single roll. (The text in this section confusingly says all players get five triumph dice, but this appears to be a typo—generally, lower-powered characters get more Triumph Dice as compensation). It’s probably not enough to make your iteration of a low-powered Crimson Avenger feel adequate next to Superman and Martian Manhunter, but it will help them stay useful and active, which is good—teamwork and allowing disparate power levels to work together should be an aim of any good supers RPG.
Oh, and kudos for including a very in-depth example of combat. New and old players alike should pick this up quite nicely.
After Combat, we come to section for Game Masters. This is often wasted page space in RPGs, but Triumphant! does a nice job of keeping it relevant. I liked the parts about having super teams deal with things like natural disasters, and how to make those in their own right. Really, the entire section on using scenery in fights and on various types of threats is very good. This section also includes some sample baddies, animals, and other threats statted out for your game.
The final section is Sovereign City, which is in some ways the weakest part of the book. I understand why a sample setting is included, but in my experience, most GMs usually work with their own setting or that of a popular comics imprint. There’s nothing wrong with it as a setting, but it probably won’t set the world on fire, either.
Triumphant! also includes an index, which is nice even in a smaller RPG product. Full points there.
In terms of layout, the product is nothing fancy, but is quite serviceable, and shouldn’t cause too much strain or headaches. Art? Well, that’s tricky. There are some really nice pieces in here that were clearly commissioned that work well, but there are also some pieces that appear to be more like stock art. I’m usually not huge on art in RPGs, but for whatever reason, I think it’s important to have a nice bit of inspirational art in supers gaming, to set the tone and give ideas. The art here is sort of a mixed bag—not bad, per se, but not really presenting a unified vision or remaining consistent in quality throughout. That’s not a huge deal for me, though it’s probably worth mentioning.
Pricing is a bit tricky on this product. The pdf is on sale at RPGNow for $10 (EDIT: It now appears to be only $7.50), but the print-on-demand format actually has two offerings: a black-and-white interior version ($22.84), and a full-color version ($41.54). As this is a pdf review, I can’t comment on how the book comes off in print, though I suspect it’s pretty close to the usual lulu print-on-demand offering.
For an overall rating, I’d give this game a very satisfied 7.5/10, and tracking higher. Art aficionados and those who want ornate production values will probably be uninspired, but those who are fine with a serviceable layout and get to the rules will probably come away impressed more often than not. There are a few pesky typos I certainly hope get revised in the near future.
If you’re in the market for a new supers RPG, or still haven’t found one that quite scratches that itch, Triumphant! Super Heroic RPG is well worth checking out in at least pdf form. As to whether someone might enjoy this over ICONS or Mutants and Masterminds, that’s a bit deeper of a question. ICONS is a fine game, though some folks struggle with Aspects and Determination. Triumphant! is no more difficult than ICONS, and might be a bit more straightforward in some ways, especially if you’re looking at playing with your children. It seems as if it will do lower-level supers a bit better than Mutants and Masterminds 3e, and is a bit less “crunchy” in terms of rules. It’s beyond the scope of the review to compare Triumphant! to every supers game on the market, but suffice to say if you’re a fan of dice-allocation character creation, straightforward mechanics, and some rules that manage to deal with most superhero conventions without bloat, Triumphant! Super Heroic RPG will likely be right up your alley.