PYS Review: DC Adventures RPG
(This post is part of my ongoing look at superhero comics and RPGs, Project Yellow Sun.)
I’ve spent about twice as much time as most people would want, and half as much time as I could, on Morrison’s definitive JLA run. So, what’s the first option for playing something like this series at the table? DC Adventures RPG, of course.
DC Adventures is the official game of the DCU that just came out recently. It’s based on Mutants and Masterminds, an RPG system that really grabbed my imagination when I first read it years ago. It’s probably the highest profile superhero game out right now, and likely the first thing someone wanting to play Morrison’s JLA would pick up.
The problem is, it’s a superhero combat system, not a game about superheros.
Let’s take a look at Batman for a second. In the JLA issues we’ve looked at so far, we can say a few things about Batman: he’s brilliant, he’s a world-class combatant, he thinks beyond what anyone else would consider, he’s got Bruce Wayne’s business knowledge, he’s driven, and he always has the right device handy.
So what does Batman’s writeup on pages 212-213 of DC Adventures tell us? Well, about half the space is taken up by a recap of Batman’s origin, which can just as easily be told in a paragraph, tops. At this point, any retelling of Batman or Superman’s origin that takes more than one comic page is redundant.
We also now know his exact height (6’2″, 3 inches taller than Barry Allen) and weight (210 lbs, 25 pounds under Superman). It’s good to know Batman would fight as a Heavyweight in the UFC and wouldn’t make a good astronaut.
But all that is ‘fluff’ with no mechanical impact. What about the mechanics, the stuff with ‘teeth’ that you can’t ignore? Well, it’s mostly complex ways of telling us more stuff we don’t need to know. Batman can lift 800 lbs (without any special effort), he can attack at any point during his move, he gets +2 to Dodge checks to avoid area effects, his punches do Damage 4 (about as much as a holdout pistol). When it comes time to be the Dark Knight Detective, Batman has a 55% chance of breaking into a secure computer system, and a 5% chance of bluffing his way past alert guards, but at least he’s always guaranteed to find evidence at a crime scene. I’m not arguing that any of these are wrong (though some do seem a little weird), I’m saying that we don’t need to know this kind of stuff at all.
His equipment gets even worse. Whoever created Batman as a character had to spend character creation points on a flashlight (1 pt), grapple gun (2 pts), and mini-tracers (1 pt). We now know that when Batman disappears in a cloud of smoke, he’s actually in a Cloud Area Visual Concealment Attack 4 (1 pt).
Nowhere on the list is the one ‘gadget’ that actually makes the biggest difference in JLA: matches. Matches seem about as important and common as a flashlight to me, it seems weird for one to require points and the other not, so by the rules Batman would have to spend a hero point to have matches on hand, if the GM says it’s okay. Whereas in the comics the entire point of the utility belt is that Batman always has the right device, in DC Adventures he has to spend a hero point or extra effort on the privilege.
Luckily, the GM section does give some guidelines on this stuff. There’s a quarter page dedicated to “Saying No To Your Players” along with half a page about “Saying Yes To Your Players.” So, when Batman says he has matches and wants to take down four pale martians, the rules tell me I can:
- Say No. It’s the first section I read, before saying yes, and it tells me if it “suits the needs of the game” I can just say no to something, no matter what the rules say. If the GM can override any rule, why are there rules?
- Say Yes, but either give him a modifier to the roll, or just count it as the modifier to a different roll.
- Say Yes, but require Batman to spend resources (hero points or extra effort) to do it.
The GM section as a whole doesn’t help me much, particularly since it keeps talking about all the different tones the game supports, but doesn’t tell me how to support them. I’m pretty well aimed at epic superhero world saving in the Morrison JLA style right now, but the rules give only a few suggestions on what that means, both to character creation and to running the game.
The most damning thing I have to say about the game comes from the text itself, page 182: “some die rolls result in anticlimactic or just plain dumb outcomes.” With nearly 300 pages of rules, I’d like a game that doesn’t require the GM to figure out when it’s wrong. I don’t expect a game to perfectly model reality, but I do expect it to be fun as written, to not require me to know what would make the rules better.
DC Adventures is nearly 300 pages mostly about the parts of superhero stories that get covered in a few panels. The longest single combat I could find in JLA was about 3 attacks and counter attacks, something DC Adventures would turn into a multi-round combat. The stuff that actually makes the series tick – the epic scale, the flashy battles, the quick pace, the team dynamics – is nowhere to be found in DC Adventures.