By Anthony “LibrariaNPC” DeMinico, 29 May 2019
In my opinion, RPGs based around heroes are difficult to get right. Sometimes a game will come out tied to a specific comic line or one specific character, but it will fail for anything beyond it. Other times, it either becomes unplayably boring (as the scales are just too great) or simply unplayable (due to mechanical issues).
While I love Cortex (especially the Marvel version), and I had respect for Mutants & Masterminds, the supers-based RPGs tend to run the gamut from overly complicated to non-functional to functional but complex.
So where does SuperAge fall into this gamut? Does it take to the skies like a hero, or find itself dead on the ground like a hero’s family/romantic interest?
Imagine a world similar to ours, but with a few twists: a superfuel changed the face of technology and has side effects of super powers, magic is real, aliens live among us, the multiverse exists, and heroes of all stripes take to the streets to make the world (and universe!) a better place.
Using the AD6 Rolling System, SuperAge is pitched as a simple, open-ended roleplaying game focusing on super powered individuals and the stories they will tell.
To be honest, the first thing that brought me into SuperAge was the art. I saw it crop up a few times on my Twitter feed, so I took the bait and checked out the Kickstarter because of said art. While the art within the book gets re-used rather often (such as a Hero’s design matching a specific villian minion, and cropped versions of larger art are snuck into other pages), it is an interesting style. The artwork is heavily detailed, but it isn’t bland either, and rotates between nodding to other designs and being rather original. Each bit of art has a flow of it’s own because of the artist’s style, and I am here for that.
While reading through the book, I had a few moments in which I had to chuckle. Some characters have rather amusing and punny name to go with their powers (like Hammer Space), while other characters are clearly built to show the versatility of the system (such as a specifically named monster hunter that’s on the trail of a vampire).
From a roll mechanic perspective, SuperAge has a good bit of flexibility. Players gather up a pool of d6s based the situation and then roll them. Pools are built from a relevant Trait (if any), Aspects, then modifiers. Roll the dice and count up successes. As long as you meet the minimum number of successes, you pass. It’s a system used often in similar games (5 being a success, 6 being two successes, etc), with the big difference being pairs of 4s counting as a single success. Not groundbreaking, but interesting and allows for ease of access.
On that note, the pools and powers really are variable. If your flavoring for a trait is Fire, you aren’t going to be able to use your Trait to lift a portcullis, but you can absolutely expect to add it when hurling a fireball at a flammable target (especially if you have Aspects to add to that!). Unlike other generic RPGs that always ensure there’s an attribute being rolled, SuperAge turns that idea on its ear and only brings in the dice when narratively appropriate. While this can be problematic for some, as a narrative-based GM, I find it refreshing.
There are a couple of other interesting bits of tech I enjoy seeing, such as the emphasis of narration how and it’s easily tied to the mechanic, the ease of “reskinning” elements as needed, “Cinematic Effects” (fun environmental things happening) in combat on a good enough roll, and a damage mechanic that is functional and interesting. The mechanics support the necessary tropes, including getting knocked into orbit or why soldiers with modern arms are limited against supers.
Overall, there’s a lot going for the game.
I hate to just come out and say it, but the writing for this is rather abysmal. While some of this could have been salvaged by a good editor, primarily misused/repeated words and poor punctuation usage/placement, the rest just isn’t up there. The explanations are often confusing, overly worded, yet are still lacking. This is further exacerbated by examples that contradict these confusing rules, making it even more difficult to fully grasp what’s going on.
Overall, I find it to be easier to deal with than Quest, but otherwise is still pretty bad in the writing and explanation department. A solid editor and someone to help trim the fat, as it were, would have saved this book.
Honestly, a game that is painful to read and needs multiple re-reads to actually make sense of stops becoming an enjoyable game for me. While simple, there are enough moving parts in SuperAge that one needs to understand a great many things to make the game work. Character creation is rife with examples that contradict the awkward text around it, while certain combat actions come off as too vague and potentially easily abusable. To me, SuperAge feels like a game that was thrown together with a solid goal and theme, but certain elements didn’t translate well from the creator’s head onto paper.
In short, if you lack patience to re-read the book and lack the experience to analyze and grok things, you won’t even get through the character creation process due to the writing issues.
Beyond this, the issues are mostly nitpicky and things someone actively looking would notice: the previously mentioned recycled artwork, art sometimes feels like a knockoff of something else, repeated text, a feeling of “missing” mechanics (like a Super using “common” weapons/armor/vehicles instead of their powers), and a generic-feeling setting (at least for me; I found too many correlations to other games).
I’m also not entirely sold that this can handle or reproduce heroes across the comic book board, but I think that’s due to my inability to full grok the creation and progression mechanics to ensure the types of characters could function correctly (even though the powers and descriptors are there).
All heroes have their dramatic hubris and their wonderful elements, and so must games about heroes. With all of the faults and praise-worthy elements, it is difficult to rank SuperAge, but for the moment, I will be giving it 2 buns.
This isn’t to say the game is terrible. There’s plenty of wonderful things in this book, and it has the potential to be a game I would put on par with Big Eyes Small Mouth. Both games are complex due to moving parts and their versatility, but SuperAge struggles to relay these mechanics in a clear manner. If the “bad writing” were to be fixed up and if someone were to “trim the fat” for a later printing, this game could potentially be worthy of 4 Buns instead! Alas, I lack a time machine or a time-based power, so I must work with what I have.
If you are looking for a flexible, narrative-focused RPG to handle your comic-themed antics, then SuperAge has you covered. It covers the typical tropes, grants access to powers across the board, and give you the tech you need to have a fun time.
Sadly, SuperAge suffers from poor writing and editing, which severely hampers it’s ability to be an easy to use game. If you jump into this, be prepared to do a couple of double-takes, deal with odd punctuation and sentence structure, and the sinking feeling that there are some rules that are missing (or contradictorily explained).