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SUPERS! Revised: The Interview


Zachary The First:
A few years ago, RPG Designer Simon Washbourne created SUPERS!, a well-received roleplaying game  that combined flexibility and ease of play. Keeping the game alive, HAZARD Studio obtained the publishing rights to the game, and saw a Kickstarter to successfully bring out a SUPERS! Revised Edition.

Always searching for that perfect superhero RPG, I started out by interviewing the co-author of SUPERS! Revised,  Aldo Regalado. Soon, though, we had involved his fellow co-author, Rus Boyd, the owner of HAZARD Studio, Walt Robilard, and Editor-in-Chief Zenith Comics Andrew Collas. What follows is a full, in-depth interview with all of these parties on just what sets SUPERS! Revised apart, how they came to publish it, and some thoughts on what makes a successful superhero RPG and campaign.

Let's start with the obvious: SUPERS! Revised--what made you do this revision?

ALDO REGALADO, SUPERS! REVISED CO-AUTHOR: Simon Washbourne created a great game in SUPERS! First Edition.  It was fast, fun, simple and robust, and the game’s action economy and narrative elements combined to enable superhero play like no other game I’d ever encountered to that point.  The game, however, was also very vague in parts.  Some Powers had die codes, but no explanation on how to use them.  The game also lacked guidelines for breaking objects, handling vehicles (super or otherwise), grappling and a slew of other elements common to the superhero genre.  A primary goal of the revision, therefore, was to provide answers to recurring questions, thus making the game more complete while remaining true to Simon’s original vision.  Another reason for the revision was to bring new players into the fold by improving on production values.

RUS BOYD, SUPERS! REVISED CO-AUTHOR: Another consideration going into the revision was the general presentation of the game. I think a lot of people were turned off by the general look and feel of the book and weren’t giving it a chance.  While it wasn’t a major factor, giving the game a facelift was a component of the revision. Otherwise, as Aldo said, beefing up the options, making rules consistent and accessible, and fleshing out some of the missing elements was the #1 consideration.

The original SUPERS! game was produced by Simon Washbourne. What made you interested in acquiring the rights to the game in the first place?

WALT ROBILLARD, HAZARD STUDIO CO-OWNER: Andrew first approached me about this in 2012. We were both working on a "hack" of an old school supers game when Andrew had heard that Simon was interested in transferring the rights to SUPERS!. We both had big plans for Superhero stuff we wanted to produce but would always have to go in as a Third Party Publisher. This meant that we would need permission from someone else or always have to be conscious of what the game's owners were doing (as we know a few folks that were producing content for games that suddenly had a new edition). We saw the awesome potential of SUPERS! and knew that we had to be the ones to score the rights. This would not only allow us to make the kind of things we wanted to do but also would allow us to build up a third party community around the game. Simon was very kind and worked with us to make this a reality and we couldn't have asked for a better experience.

ANDREW COLLAS, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, ZENITH COMICS: SUPERS! was the first SUPER POWERED RPG that I ever saw allow you to use your Super Smarts as a defense against a physical attack!  I was blown away!  When I learned that Simon was interested in maybe selling the rights, I contacted Walt and said “We gotta do this!”. Walt checked it out, he agreed, we negotiated a deal with Simon and the rest, as they say, is history. Hard working history.

For fans of the original SUPERS!, what's different in Revised?

ALDO: As I mentioned above, the primary difference between SUPERS! First Edition and SUPERS! Revised is that the game is now replete with examples and suggestions on how to use Powers and on how to handle situations that were not covered in the original rules.  Once we got under the hood, we also tweaked some already existing systems to make the game more streamlined.  Some specific changes and additions include:

1) A unified task resolution mechanic
2) A new way of calculating damage
3) A new Benefit / Hindrance mechanic
4) New tactical options, including rules for critical strikes, grappling, and disarming opponents
5) An expanded list of things that can be accomplished with Competency Dice
6) New Mook and Hazard rules
7) Nineteen new Powers
8) Three new Aptitudes
9) New Boosts and Complications
10) New Advantages (including Base of Operations and Super Vehicles)
11) New Disadvantages
12) Rules for breaking things, falling, drowning, and death
13) Optional rules (including Wild Die and Dice Cap options)
14) An optional system for running the game with miniatures
15) A random character generator

16) The assist action!  One of the baffling omissions from the original game was the ability to team up and accomplish something together that an individual character could never hope to.

What do you see as SUPERS! Revised offering that really stands out in a crowded supers RPG market?

ALDO: Well, the first thing to say is that SUPERS! RED is rules-lite.  That sets it apart from some of the more famous superhero games, like Champions and Mutants and Masterminds. Despite this fact, SUPERS! RED remains powerful and comprehensive in its ability to model the diversity of powers and abilities that you find in superhero comics (and beyond). The question then arises, “How does SUPERS! RED distinguish itself from other rules-lite (or rules-medium) games?”  The way I see it, SUPERS! RED hits the sweet spot between the “physics engine” RPGs and “narrative engine” RPGs. One of its strengths is that there is a GREAT deal of narrative flexibility. In combat, for instance, one can attack with ANY attribute, as long as a case could be made for using it. Fighting a robot?  Maybe you attack with your Technology Aptitude by hacking into its computer brain. Maybe you attack with your Size Control Power, as you shrink down to your smallest size, slip through a crack in its casing and start pulling wires. Maybe you attack with Super Brain as you present it with a logic problem that breaks down its programming, or maybe you just shoot it with an energy blast. Defenders have just as much, and perhaps more, narrative choices.  Maybe the robot defends with its Technology Aptitude, countering your hacking attempts with its own security programs. Maybe it defends with its Energy Control Powers, filling its body with the ionic energy it wields to flush you out.  Maybe it counters with its Presence Aptitude, loudly proclaiming that it is a sentient being and thus beyond your puny attempts to exploit its programming, or maybe it simply absorbs your blow with its Unobtainium casing. The reason that defenders have more narrative control is that in most cases they can also decide how any resultant damage is applied, be it to mental or physical Attributes.

Despite all of this narrative freedom, however, Attributes in the game are still pretty solidly grounded in a “physics engine” type system. Narrative freedom plays an important part, but characters are still somewhat bound by Ratings grounded in the game’s physical world. Lizard Lad probably can’t knockout Malephon, Lord of a Thousand Realities, just because he loves his sister. I also think that SUPERS! RED is pretty carefully calibrated and internally consistent, which isn’t always true for other superhero RPGs.  

How easy is this system to learn? How does it scale, and how does it handle disparities in power level--say, having someone like Superman in the same group as the Question or Booster Gold, or Hawkeye next to Thor and the Hulk?

ALDO: The system is incredibly easy to learn.  The basic mechanic takes all of 14 pages to explain (and four of these pages are filled with tables and/or art). In addition to learning the game, character generation is a snap. Once you have a character concept, you can generate a character in ten minutes or less. I’ve introduced the game to three different gaming groups. In each case it took me five minutes to explain the basic mechanic, and another 10 minutes to generate characters. Most importantly, the players I’ve encountered “get it” almost instantly, and are able to jump into the action without any difficulty.

How does the game scale? Every Attribute in the game has a Rating measured in a number of D6.  Ratings of 1D–3D are in the “normal human” range. A Rating of 4D is the nexus between “peak human” and “superhuman.” Anything 5D and above is considered “superhuman.” Theoretically, the superhuman range can scale as high as a judge allows, but it rarely exceeds 7D or so.

The “normal human” range of 1D–3D, however, is deceptive.  In SUPERS!, having a Rating in an Attribute AT ALL makes you exceptional. This is because most regular people (reporters, police officers, soldiers, etc.) don’t get the benefit of a full character sheet. They have a Mook/Citizen or Henchmen/Supporting Cast Rating instead. So, a group of six soldiers might have a Mook Rating of 2D. That means that the non-powered mystery man with a Fortitude 2D, Reaction 2D and Fighting 2D is way more effective than those six soldiers combined. In my experience, this mechanic allows even non-powered superheroes to feel truly “super” relative to the broader world they inhabit.

As far as having characters of different power levels co-existing in the same group, SUPERS! allows for this by granting additional Competency Dice to characters built with fewer dice totals. These Competency Dice can be used to improve rolls, modify narrative elements, reuse abilities, effect power stunts and otherwise compensate for power discrepancies.

Looking at the art in SUPERS!, you have several different artists with very different styles. Was that a conscious decision over going with just a single artist or style?

WALT: It was very much a conscious decision. So many cowl clad RPG's out there go with a signature (house) style for the game. This has both good and bad consequences. While it gives an identifiable look to the game that most can pick out from across the shelf, it also tends to give an idea to the player of one particular style that the game can be played. By going with different art styles, we could emphasize that the game could be cinematic (such as Batman Begins - from the look of Ariel Medel's "heroic cover)to standard comic book action (Ade Smith and Joe Singleton's images throughout the book) and even animated (using DT Butchino's archetype images ). With multiple artists, we could push the idea that the SUPERS! engine was diverse enough to handle everything from your favorite Marvel and DC comics to items like Image titles, such as Black Science, Fatale, or even Rat Queens. We wanted this to become "your" game and in doing so, needed our art to be able to tell as many stories as possible.  

ANDREW: I designed the logo! That counts as art right?  Right?

Is there a sub-genre of superheroes you find that's a "sweet spot" for SUPERS? Are there any sub-genres that might need a bit more tinkering for a campaign?

ALDO: Honestly, I think SUPERS! handles just about any superheroic sub-genre pretty well.  There are people on the message boards that are using the game to make characters for entirely different genres as well. I think some superheroic sub-genres, however, would benefit from additional guidelines. Really gritty street level games, for instance, would benefit from a discussion of how to use Hindrances or Benefits to make weapons matter more in combat. Cosmic level games might benefit from similar genre-specific tweaking. The sweet-spot, then, is probably everything from non-gritty street level campaigns (like classic Daredevil, Spider-Man or Batman) to Justice League level play.  

RUS: For me, the sweet spot for SUPERS! is the mid- to upper-level tiers of power. Cosmic levels of play are easily accomplished but I shudder to think of counting 10+ dice per roll all session long! Gritty gameplay at the street level is doable as long as you are willing to accept that SUPERS! makes rather large leaps in value at each “level” as represented by dice ratings which might not match some people’s expectations of that level of play.

In your supers gaming campaigns, what are your big influences? Any particular comic ages, groups, shows, or comic book runs?

ALDO: My baseline sensibilities are probably Bronze Age. I grew up reading comics from the late 1970s and the early 1980s. Although I continue to read comics, that early stuff really set my baseline sensibilities. I’ve had one player tell me that the tone of my games is akin to the Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans run. I love that stuff, so that’s good, but I see myself striking more of an Englehart/Perez sensibility. My most recent campaign, however, feels more like a 1990s Ultraverse book, probably because I’m reading a lot of that stuff now and also because of the vibe that my players brought to the game with their characters.

RUS: Cartoons! I didn’t grow up reading comic books so the vast majority of my experience is through the various cartoons that have come and gone. I should note that Irrational Game’s Freedom Force was my first comic book style RPing experience beyond a few one-offs of the old TSR Marvel RPG. I’ve shamelessly raided Freedom Force for a number of games and campaigns.

In your opinion, what's the key to a successful supers campaign?

ALDO: There are so many elements to a successful campaign!  Also, I’m not sure that these elements are any different for superhero campaigns than they are for any other RPG genre. GMs (or judges) need to know the genre they are running, and players need to buy-in. Communication is key, as is planning. Consistency helps. The neat thing about superhero gaming is that it encompasses all genres. I like superhero campaigns that feature superhero teams composed of characters with diverse backgrounds. If I’m running a game for an Arthurian knight, an Alpha Centaurian, a demon hunter and a robot who ran away from its corporate owners, I’ve got four different genres to blend together into really cool superhero zaniness. So, what players bring to the table is key. There’s tons more, of course, but I’ll end by saying that system matters as well.  That’s why I like SUPERS! RED so much (as well as several other rules-lite games). Many of my players loved the idea of superhero gaming, but overly complex systems got in the way of their enjoyment. Turning towards rules-lite games has allowed them to embrace the action, drama and fun inherent in the genre.

RUS: I usually insist that each character have a disadvantage of some sort that offers up its own campaign ideas. Secret criminal backgrounds, family members and love interests, personal goals that transcend “beating up bad guys”, etc. all tie characters into the campaign world and allow me to incorporate personal stories into the larger plot. It’s probably because it occurs all the time in cartoons, I enjoy having character-centered game sessions during broader campaigns where I highlight a specific Disadvantage. More often than not those types of games naturally create more plot ideas!

Who have been your biggest influences in gaming and game design, and why?

ALDO: Wow. I haven’t really thought about that. First of all, I don’t know that I can really call myself a designer. I’m a writer, and I helped to substantially revise the work done by Simon Washbourne, but I’m not sure that qualifies me as a designer. I’ll let others decide on that. Despite the fact that I just expressed a preference for rules-lite games, I have to say that Steve Peterson, George MacDonald, Bruce Harlick and Ray Greer have been the most influential in the way that I think about superhero games. They, of course, created Champions – a game that I played for over 20 years.  They gave us the point-buy, effects-based character generation system that is at the core of all my favorite superhero RPGs.  Second, I’d have to say Chris Rutkowsky and Simon Washbourne. These two men are TRUE designers, and they both taught me that superhero gaming can be done (and done better, IMO) the rules-lite way.

RUS: I was going to say all the veterans of TSR that drew me into gaming decades ago, but I believe most of what I do these days stands in stark contrast to those systems. Really, Chris Rutkowsky’s BASH UE is what brought me back to the gaming table after years of not playing and was the first rules-light game I tried. A few years later I found myself playing SUPERS! at a table and I’ve been hooked ever since.

What was the first RPG you played? What was the first RPG you really loved?

ALDO: The first RPG I played was Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (1st Edition). I really loved it, which is why I started playing other RPGs.  Champions, however, is the game that I was truly passionate about for 20+ years.  I mean, I continued to play D&D and picked up many, Many, MANY games over the years, but Champions was HUGE for me.  I loved the ability to craft my own character and the power to be able to craft just about ANY character. I picked it up in 1982 and was hooked for most of my gaming life. Once the complexity of it started to bog down playability (due to time constraints and player preferences) I started experimenting with rules-lite games. BASH! UE won me over in a big way. I still love (and play) that game, but SUPERS! ended up being my go-to superhero game in the end, for the reasons I stated above.

RUS: D&D Basic Edition with the incredible Elmore art on the cover.  Really, it was the art that hooked me. I looked at that lone fighter in his fuzzy blue loincloth going toe-to-toe with the huge red dragon and I said “I want to play THAT game!” Dungeons and Dragons up through the 3rd edition (which killed my interest for various reasons) was my true passion.  I haven’t felt the same way about gaming again until I ran into SUPERS!.

What's next for the SUPERS! line? What sorts of products are you going to be releasing next, and in what timeframe? Are you looking at any 3rd-party support?

ALDO: I’ll let Walt and Andrew answer this, but I can say that they welcome 3rd-party support. My own company, The Guys’ Ink (TGI) produced two books for SUPERS! (First Edition). These are The Freedom Ring and The Iron Gauntlet (with art by SUPERS! RED co-author, Rus Boyd). Both books are set in a universe I call the Superverse. My first SUPERS! RED book will be The Superverse.  It will include "REDified" versions of all the characters from the original two books plus new characters, organizations, setting material and an ambitious plot-point campaign.  I’m going to start working on it in earnest on September 1st.

WALT: As Aldo has said, we love our third party community. We have amazing folks that have stepped up to be a part of what we are trying to build with SUPERS!. There are a lot of folks who have amazing ideas that they want to see published and we are excited and privileged to help these come alive on the page. While we do not have an open license for our game, we do encourage folks who want to push their ideas with our engine to approach us. Once we have an agreement on production standards, we usually let the third party folks run with their ideas (which has produced some incredible results).

As far as the next HAZARD Studio release for SUPERS!, we have a full line up already in production. From adventures to character packs, we have been very busy. We also have our next big book in production. We want to take SUPERS! and show people that four colors can produce anything we can dream up. Agency Unlimited will be a sourcebook for those that want to play agency style games. We have more irons in the fire, but we have to wait to speak on those.  We are just excited to be a part of a golden age of Superhero Gaming.

ANDREW: Slowly but surely I am releasing the Zenith Universe as either HEROIC or VILLAINOUS character packs. 1 character, full story, easy options to plug into your SUPERS! campaign.  Beyond that, as the Zenith Universe grows, it will always serve SUPERS! first and foremost. I believe in this game in a way that I want my own published universe to be part of it. When we first got the rights a bunch of folks asked me “Is this just going to become the Zenith Universe RPG?” and I said then what I say now, no way… but it WILL be the official RPG of the Zenith Universe!

RUS: I’ve now produced two products under the banner of Legends & Cryptids of North America in collaboration with HAZARD Studios. They’re non-traditional products I suppose for a comic book RPG but I’ve always loved folktales, especially the Spanish and Latin American influenced stories that I grew up listening to in Texas. There’ll be a third entry to accompany the Sasquatch and the Lechuza within the next month.

Will we be seeing HAZARD Studios and SUPERS! at any big gaming conventions anytime soon?

WALT: While I am not currently planning on attending any big conventions this year, there are some folks who are carrying the SUPERS! Banner at several appearances (and have my full support).  Joe Singleton is going to be at the Ark-La-Tex Comicon on August 30th for anyone who would like to sit down with one of our artists.  He will be doing some sketching and helping to raffle off a copy of SUPERS! Revised Edition for charity.  I will also be attending two virtual conventions.  The weekend of October 10th I will be at Virtua-Con and then the weekend of November 17th I will be at Aethercon.  Both of these are online conventions where I will be hosting games of SUPERS! as well as being on several panels about RPGs.  If there is a convention in the North Eastern United States that would like SUPERS! to make an appearance, I can be reached through our website,  

RUS:  I’m still waiting on my ticket to Gen Con Walt. :)

To learn more about SUPERS! Revised, check out their page over at RPGNow/DriveThruRPG, or visit HAZARD Studio. Thanks to the authors and HAZARD crew for their time and thoughts!


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