Plus, I have my own tastes about what I like in a supers RPG, which I've touched on from time to time here, but to summarize I like a game that feels like a comic book, doesn't get bogged down in too much detail, but allows for PC growth and development in a tangible game-system way. I also don't want to spend hours on character creation using a spreadsheet. For that matter, it would be an added bonus if it could also accommodate a large number of players and didn't have glaring options for power-gaming.
So I'm basically looking for a supers RPG unicorn, I guess.
Some time I will go into my troubles with the one commercially successful supers RPG out there, Mutants and Masterminds, but not today. Today I want to kick the tires on a supers RPG that came out a couple of years ago but of which I had not heard until this week: Prowlers & Paragons, by Lakeside Games.
The game is pretty straightforward in a lot of ways. PC's are defined by "Traits" which encapsulate both skills and powers from other systems, ranked by a number of d6's rolled. For every even number you roll, you get a success. Roll a 6, get a success and roll again with a chance to get another success, including another 6, which can be re-rolled and so on. Compare your number of successes against a target number or the number of successes your opponent gets to determine if you succeed or fail.
PC creation is basically assigning d6's to Traits. There are "Mundane Traits" that are essentially stats like Might and skills. The assumption is that PC's have a 2d6 in those by default, so the first d6 spent on them gives you 3d6.. "Super Traits" are the powers, and while you don't automatically have them, the first d6 gives you 3d6. There are also "Perks" which somewhat unusually are a combination of traits that would be considered in some games powers (like Animal Forms or Super Senses), perks (like Luck or Wealth), or the odd stat (like Lightning Reflexes). In general Perks are a "you have it or you don't" kind of trait, rather than the scaleable Mundane or Power Traits. This reveals a certain perspective on the comic book genre by the creators. Take for example the Perk "Time Travel." You pay 4d6 and get this Perk, which allows you to travel through time. For an additional 2d6 you can have it be a gate. I guess the theory is that you can either travel through time or you can't, and there's not really much of a sense of a way that someone could travel through time at a higher level. Other examples are Invisibility, Wall Crawling, or Precognition. There are positive and negative modifiers to the traits that either increase or decrease the total cost, which is pretty typical of supers RPG's.
Interestingly enough, there are really onto two "attribute" traits: Might and Will (both Mundane). Any sense of intelligence is covered through specific skills, while personality qualities are covered through the Mundane traits Charm or Command.
Starting PC's of a typical level are given 36d6 to spend, with a max of three traits at 10d6. Note that many Traits are not bought on a 1-to-1 basis.
So a quick rundown on combat. Contested roll of d6's, depending on the offense trait (e.g. Blast or Might) and the defense trait (e.g. Athletics or Armor). If the attacker scores higher, the difference in successes is the damage. That means that the game does not distinguish between the powerfulness of the attack and its tendency to hit (a quality it shares with MHR, but is different from M&M). In a forum I read a comment by the designer that this is intentional, and reflects a perceived quality in comic books of powerful bricks like the Thing or the Hulk rarely missing in hand-to-hand combat, plus removing another step and a lot of complexity out of combat rules. It's a level of abstraction that some might dislike, although I think I'm okay with it.
In terms of defense, there's active and passive traits when it comes to defense. Active traits have a negative modifier (removing dice from the roll) if they have to be used repeatedly in the same combat turn. Passive ones do not. There are also some offensive powers than can be used defensively in some circumstances, like Blast, which for +2d6 can be used as an active defense against ranged attacks. Drilling down a bit, let's look at some examples of how similar powers compare and what they are meant to represent.
Might vs. Strike. Might is your straight-up superstrength, and can be used to attack, and determines how much you can lift. It can only be used defensively when it comes to grappling or resisting the trait Ensnare. Strike, on the other hand, represents any melee-combat damaging attack like claws, swords, or most importantly martial arts attacks. It can be used (with the additional cost) as an active defense against ranged attacks, unlike Might. In the same forum discussion, the author stated explicitly that Strike (in conjunction with Athletics) was supposed to represent the Martial Artist superhero who can chop through bricks but isn't superhumanly strong. I figure Strike is also the catch-all for things like super-speed punches and the like, since there is no trait that reflects that power.
Toughness vs. Armor. Here's where the "Active" and "Passive" Defense comes into play. If you are using an active defense, you have an increasing penalty for every attack you defend against after the first one in a single combat turn (called, appropriately enough, a "page"). Armor is a passive defense, and stays the same regardless of how often you are hit. In the book, Armor could reflect actually physical armor, a force field, etc. Toughness is an active defense, and so can be overwhelmed by multiple attacks, which makes it less useful than armor as a trait, except that Toughness determines how quickly you recover health, so that's the trade off.
This is going long, so let me start to wrap up with two more concepts: Resolve and Adversity. Every PC takes three flaws, which are basically disadvantages common to most supers RPG's. For every flaw you have you don't get more dice to build your character (a common conceit) but you get a Resolve point, which can be used for various benefits: stunts, extra actions, quick healing, etc. You gain Resolve points in play as a result of having your flaws come into effect or intentionally failing a critical roll. The GM's version of this is Adversity, and works roughly the same way.
There's a lot of other stuff in there about how to run a supers RPG campaign (nothing too innovative for people familiar with the genre) and a surprising amount of material about gear, vehicles, NPC's and the like that you wouldn't think would be in a rules-light game, but provide a lot of stuff with which GM's can play.
But the true test of a game is in its playability, so I plan on taking this game out for a test drive soon with a handful of players, and will report back what I find. Comments and questions encouraged!