I am always happy to discover free RPG materials, particularly in genres I enjoy, such as Superheroes. The ruleset Hero DxD by Jeff Moore and published by Dreams and Dragons was recently DriveThru RPG‘s Free Product of the Week, and is still free. (Those are featured in each Thursday email newsletter.) It is an update of Mr. Moore’s 5×5 system. This is a mechanics-light narrative system. I found most of the mechanics to be a little different but also appealing.
Hero uses 2 six-sided dice for tests (checks) and the results are multiplied, not added, unlike every other game I can think of. (Hence, DxD.) Then the product is compared to the relevant ability score. A product lower than your score is a success. There are also special dice results, such as “Boxcars” (two 6’s), which may affect this simple resolution, depending on the test difficulty and other circumstances.
PC’s have eight Abilities generated with either a standard array or randomly–and always include a line of flavor text. (“I summon ice to frostbite my opponents and snow to blind them.” “I fly on the icy winds of winter.”) Interestingly, they are often as much backstory details or Complications (M&M)/Troubles (Fate) as they are ability scores to use in tests and are often quite personalized. They also have unusual and cool names: Clobbering, Grit, Vigilance, Zip, Grind, Vision, Excelsior, and Nemesis. The last four are the most personalized, although they are used for particular tests, such as Excelsior for social tests. Grind is secret/non-super ID and Vision what the PC hopes to become. Excelsior and Nemesis in other games would not be under Ability Scores, but character sheet sections like Trouble, Complications, Disadvantages, etc., depending on the system. Excelsior is a person important to you, more or less equivalent to an M&M “relationship complication”: teacher, loved one, (former) friend, and so on. Nemesis is probably not a person; instead it is your character’s weakness of whatever sort: power loss, vulnerability, uncontrollable power are some examples. Nemesis doesn’t have a numerical score; Nemesis tests are a different mechanic, but just as quick and simple. And if you need inspiration for your flavor texts, Excelsior and Nemesis, there are several pages of tables to assist. Pick what suits and alter as you will.
Combat mechanics sound like a lot of fun to me. To start, there aren’t initiative tests. The Comics Master/CM (gamemaster) always goes first, setting the scene and taking the NPCs’ actions, then the players respond, going clockwise, and PCs taking turns going next after the CM. But that’s not all. The first player in each round is also the Ace for that round. Okay, what’s an Ace? It’s not one of the fortunate, pretty and most powerful supers in George R.R. Martin’s famed Aces/Jokers novel series. (Unless the CM is running an Aces/Jokers campaign.) But it is the PC who can Save the Day!
Save the Day is a mechanic that, once a round, can help out a PC who has failed a test. Once the round’s first PC/Ace has gone, if another PC fails in that round, the Ace can opt to Save the Day narratively, to allow the acting PC a re-roll at a lower difficulty. You even get to call out, “I am here to save the day!” so narrate to the max. “I freeze the street so The Bulkster ice-skates into a semi instead of punching Captain Hunk’s lights out!” There’s been many a game session where this would have been so great. I bet you’ve had those sessions too. Plus it sounds like much more fun than “I spend a __ Point for a re-roll.”
Combat seems like it would go fast too, since in the default Simple Combat, only the PCs are rolling dice. When it is your turn, you make a Clobbering test to see if you succeed, scoring a Hit on the Villain. When the CM says a Villain is attacking you, you make a Grit test to see if you evaded it. If you don’t, you take one of the five Complication options on your sheet (some of which will affect others, not you) or you can opt to be “knocked out,” taking you out for the rest of the encounter. So, in effect, PCs each can take up to 5 attacks/encounter, not counting any Healing abilities or Save the Day. On the other hand, Opposed Combat, recommended for scenes with major Villains rather than only thugs, has both sides rolling Clobbering and Grit.
Hero, like FFG’s Star Wars RPGs, doesn’t require the CM to build Villains and other NPCs just like the PCs. If a Villain or Minion is only going to be in Simple Combats, their only “stat” may be how many hits the CM decided they can take. For use in Opposed Combat, they need at least Clobbering and Grit. A Villain may have other abilities up to a PC type write-up, depending on importance and how the CM wants to use them. Oh, and they will also have flavor text, like PC’s, since in this system that defines what a character can do.
I think I would enjoy this game. (Did you notice, all my flavor text examples are for Yule Queen, my favorite M&M PC?) Now all I need to do is persuade someone in my gaming group to do this as a one-shot.