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ough a lot of gamers got their start with Dungeons & Dragons, my first tabletop RPG was actually a different TSR game – Marvel Super Heroes. The FASERIP system was a lot of fun, very easy to learn (even in single digits of age) and I loved the random character generation process. The game still remains one of my favorites to this day. Another classic Super Hero RPG was Mayfair’s DC Heroes Role Playing Game. It had one of the best super hero character building systems ever and the mechanics were solid. For over thirty years, these two games have been the measuring stick with what I judge other super hero games, be they Champions, Mutants and Masterminds, Heroes Unlimited, later terrible incarnations of Marvel games I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, TMNT and other Strangeness, Villains and Vigilantes and more.
Now however, we have Valiant Universe RPG. I’ll be honest as much as I was DC and Marvel fans as a kid, the 90s brought me Valiant comics and it quickly became my favorite universe. Shadowman by Bob Hall and Steve Englehart. Rai by Bob Layton and David Michelinie. Harbinger by Jim Shooter. X-O Manowar, Ninjak, Quantum and Woody, and more! Valiant picked up the best writers and artists from comics and gave us the best cohesive universe I’d ever seen. Alas, it died off almost as quickly as it was born, for which I personally blame Acclaim Entertainment (Yes, the video game company. It’s a long story) and for more than a decade the characters of Valiant lay dormant save for those owned by Gold Key Studios. You can’t keep a good thing down though and about two years ago, Valiant came back with a vengeance – rebooting everything, but sticking to what made it work in the first place – collecting the best storytellers and artists in comics and delivering a universe full of continuity and characterization. I have pullbox subscriptions for every comic they put out and if you look at my list of comics I picked up in April you’d see it consist of 9 Valiant, 7 DC, 4 Marvel and 1 IDW. So as you can tell, I’ve been a Valiant fan since the dawn of its first incarnation, as well as a long time role-player, so Valiant Universe RPG was something I’ve been waiting a long time for.
Unlike most games, which only put out a single set of Quick Start Rules to entice buyers to pick up the real thing, Catalyst Game Labs is actually doing a set of SIX, which each one covering a different facet of the Valiant universe. This first QSR release covers a very simplified version of the rules and Unity. May through July will see a whopping FIVE QSR releases on the Harbinger Wars event that ran last year, each covering a different faction in that fight: Bloodshot, Generation Zero, The Harbinger Foundation, The Renegades and H.A.R.D. Corps. That’s a pretty interesting way to build hype for a brand new game and it will be interesting to see if it works or not. Besides this set of six PDFs, there will also be a physical Quick Start Rules set available at your local brick and mortar stores on Free RPG Day 2014. If that’s not enough the Core Rulebook for Valiant Universe RPG will be available digitally on July 5th and physically in August (probably later in real life because that’s how our industry rolls). I’m really impressed by CGL and Valiant’s game plan for this new RPG and I can’t deny out of all the new systems scheduled for 2014, this has been the one I’ve been most excited for (Sorry Pirates & Dragons).
Of course just because a game has a license with a large fandom behind it doesn’t mean the game is going to be a good one. For every Ghosts of Albion or Bram Stoker’s Dracula, there is a Know Your Role or Street Fighter RPG that is pretty terrible. So where does Valiant Universe RPG fall? Well, it’s impossible to tell from a twenty-six page set of Quick Start Rules. These are a simplified bare bones version of the real thing after all. I will say that the game looks exceedingly promising. At first glance, the Cue System (the mechanics for Valiant Universe RPG) seems to be a mix of Savage Worlds (Yay!) and Cortex (Boo!).
It’s very interesting that unlike most games which have a designated DM/GM/Keeper/Storyteller/what have you, every player takes a turn at being the Lead Narrator. This is an unusual choice as most gaming groups have one or two people that are good or like to run the game while the others just want to play as characters. The upside to this is everyone gets a chance to run things and at no time will there ever be the threat of “GMs vs Players” which ruins so many games. It also means that the game is unique in that adventures are a group creation where everyone contributes to the storytelling instead of just being along for the ride. There are downsides though, like when a person who sucks at GM’ing is up for the Lead Narrator role. As well, it means that due to the “telephone” like nature of Lead Narration the adventure may turn out totally differently from how it was originally intended. This isn’t a bad thing on its own, but it does mean you won’t see people spend time crafting and honing their own homebrew adventures. I can’t even begin to imagine how published adventures will work with this style of GM’ing. This doesn’t put me off though. If anything, it has me all the more curious for the final version. As well, the text clearly states you can run Valiant Universe RPG with a single Lead Narrator like any other game, so if the new idea doesn’t pan out, go back to basics!
There are no rules for character creation in this set of Quick Start Rules, which is fine. I am curious if there will be any, or if it will be more like the Cortex Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game where you only play as established canon characters. In this set of QSRs, you get four playable PCs, which are the original members of Unity. You have Toyo Harada, Gilad Anni-Padda – the Eternal Warrior, Ninjak (YES!) and Livewire. It makes sense to start with a team based group as a solo character like Shadowman would be a poor choice for a QSR, while an awesome choice for a solo adventure. Choosing Unity also made some of the biggest names in Valiant playable right off the bat, so this was a great choice overall, even if my favorite current Valiant Comic (Archer & Armstrong) won’t have its characters show up in any of the planned QSR sets.
The adventure for this Unity set follows this first story arc of Unity almost to the letter. The team is gathered to takedown X-O Manowar, who has recently taken over Romania and given it back to the Visigoths. Russia is planning a nuclear strike as nothing else seems has even made Aric of Dacia flinch, but Harada knows that will be disastrous for the entire world. As such, he has gathered a powerful group of heroes to save the day. Of course, if you have read the comics, you know that things don’t run smoothly. I won’t spoil the adventure, but I will say it is a lot of fun and that it is one of the best conversions from comic to tabletop I’ve ever seen. Of course, this does not mean you’re on rails to follow the comic storyline exactly. There are some examples in the text of how wildly divergent the adventure can stray from the comics up. This was very well done, but I do admit I hope to see some original adventures for characters down the road. Just following a comic arc makes sense for a QSR set as it is something Valiant fans will already be familiar with and can follow without having to strain their creative muscles too much. It would be dull if every adventure was based on a previously written comic book though.
So let’s talk playing the game. Again, these are not the final rules for the game, but simplified QSR mechanics. Each character has five core stats: Might (Strength and Stamina), Intellect, Charisma, Action (Fighting ability) and Luck. Luck is a solid non mutable number for each character. For example, Ninjak has 9 while Harada has 3. The other four stats are assigned a die. A stat will either have a D4, D6, D8, D10 or D12 attached to it, with the higher die representing more potential power. When a character has to make a roll. The player rolls the die corresponding to that trait and a d12. The two results are added together. The Lead Narrator then makes an opposing roll with a d20. Whoever gets the high result wins. Yes, resolving dice rolls are that easy/simple. So for example, if Ninjak wants to kick through a locked door (he doesn’t have time to pick the lock), he would roll his Might die (d8) and a d12 and add the result together. Then the Lead Narrator would roll that d20. If the player wins the roll, the action goes exactly as planned. If the Lead Narrator wins…it does not. Now a LN winning the roll doesn’t mean failure – it simply means they get to decide what happens. So for example, if Ninjack gets a 12 and the Lead Narrator gets a 19, the LN could say Ninjak does indeed kick through the door, but that it leg goes right through it as the door was brittle and old and he has to spend his next turn pulling his leg out of the hole he just made. If a player decides to use a power for an action, they get to roll the die associated with that power, the stat die and the d12. They don’t get to add all three results together though. Instead, they drop the lowest die and add the two remaining results together before the LN makes the opposing role. So let’s look at that scenario again. This time it’s the Eternal Warrior trying to break down the door with a sword. He would get to roll his Might die (d10), his power die of Weapon Mastery (d12) and the regular d12 die. So that’s two d12s and a d10 and then he would drop the lowest of the three. The LN would then roll its d20 and see who wins. Looking at it though, GIliad has a better chance of getting through the door than Ninjak, doesn’t he?
There is one exception to the above scenario and that is where luck comes in. If a player rolls his dice and one comes up with his luck number, it is an automatic success. So if any of Giliad’s three dice came up showing a 10, the LN doesn’t even need to roll – the action is a success. There can also be modifiers to die rolls just as in any game, chosen at the Lead Narrator’s discretion. Combat between two characters is a straight up Action Die vs Action Die with Modifiers. I should point out that ranged combat, at least in this QSR set has a pretty big advantage over melee. It’ll be interesting to see how much that holds up in the core rules once they are released, but for right now, distance is king.
There are a few other areas to cover. Health is similar to Shadowrun or World of Darkness games in that characters have a set amount and as it goes down, they receive penalties to die rolls. Each character also has an armor pool which is deleted before Health starts to go. Plot Points are similar to GM intrusions from Numenera mixed with the Doom Pool from the Marvel Cortex game. So on and so forth. It’ll be interesting to see how the rules change with each Quick Start release and what the final version eventually looks like.
So overall, Valiant Universe RPG is looking like it is off to a great start. It’s definitely looking like a game long time tabletop gamers and newcomers can sit down and have fun playing. The rules are very easy to learn and are pretty instinctual once you start. I have no idea where CGL is going to take this game and how supplements, published adventures and character creation will work, but I’m very eager to find out. Who knows – maybe we’ll see a line of Valiant Universe RPG miniatures down the road. I’d love a Vincent Van Goat. Anyway, this Quick Start Rules set is free, so if you’re remotely interested in Valiant or tabletop RPGs, you should download this right away. Again, this is the first of many free samples Catalyst Game Labs will be giving out online, so you’re going to want to pick up the whole set for a better look at how Valiant Universe RPG is shaping up. I’ll be taking a look at each of the releases as they are made available, so join me back here every few weeks to see what’s new!
[5 of 5 Stars!]