Heroes Just For One Day
By Mike Larrimore & Brian Pivik
Mike Larrimore and Brian Pivik’s1 2022 Destined is a superhero roleplaying game. But not your usual game; Destined is set in a world of comparatively low-powered superheroes.
The first thing gamers who opted for the physical book2 will notice is that this is a hefty tome. The hardcover isn’t actually all that long (333 pages). Why it’s so heavy is unclear but the book definitely has a nice weight. Also:
- While the text is not large print, even my subpar eye had no trouble reading it.
- In addition to having an index, the rules are extensively cross-referenced.
- The art … let’s just say it is not to my personal taste and leave it at that.
I was going to say the text is rather light on characterization but actually, that’s not true. Part of the effort to convey the rules to the reader involves following a character called Shadowstalker through the entire process of development.
The core mechanics are based on publisher The Design Mechanism’s (TDM’s) Mythrasroleplaying game. Mythras began as Runequest 6, thus the core game engine is a descendant of Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying (BRP). If you’ve played Runequest, Call of Cthulhu, Stormbringer, or even TDM’s own Lyonesse, then you will be familiar with the core elements of the system3. Note that this is not the first BRP superhero roleplaying game: that would be Superworld.
Character creation (chargen) is a twelve-step process. This may sound time-consuming but the system offers several options at each step. There’s a quick design approach for people who want to speed through chargen; other chargen options will provide compulsive min-maxers with the opportunity to invest as much time as they like carefully tweaking designs. The game mechanics are, as one would expect from a BRP-derived game, rather detailed and favor math-crunching stats (although nowhere to the extent Champions does).
There were some surprising elements. The first one was that the value of many powers is directly governed by a particular characteristic or set of characteristics, rather than being determined independently. As a consequence, characters with high values for governing characteristics are more powerful than characters with low characteristics. This means players who wish their characters to have superlative powers must make sure their character has superlative values for the relevant characteristics.
The other surprise, which I noticed as soon as I started designing characters, was that certain common superhero archetypes, specifically the invulnerable heroes, are (as far as I can tell) essentially impossible to design in this system. Even a character with the highest levels of inherent armor available can be incapacitated by a barrage of conventional gunfire4. This aspect is not dictated by the ancestral BRP mechanics (it’s easy to create invulnerable characters in Superworld); it’s a deliberate design choice. In Destined, the best way to deal with being hit is not to be hit; happily, characters adept at parrying and dodging can be created within the design space, as are characters with impressive healing factors.
All in all, Destined looks flexible and perfectly functional within its intended domain (low-powered, comparatively vulnerable superheroes). I intend to find out how it plays in practice.
Destined is available here.
A high-level overview of the game and the genre it simulates.
The twelve steps to chargen: campaign power level, hero concept, origin, characteristics (the BRP standards: Strength, Constitution, Size, Dexterity, Intelligence, Power, and Charisma), attributes (which are derived from characteristics), standard skills, culture, career, bonus skills, powers, allotments and gear, and final details.
An interesting, by which I mean boring insider-baseball detail I learned about myself: Destined is an example of a game where characteristic-derived bonuses are expressed in additional dice to roll, as opposed to flat numerical bonus (so +1d4 rather than +2). That’s good news for dice companies, but it turns out this approach vexes me, particularly since the range of dice used includes two-sided dice. I would probably just give characters the value of the average roll on the bonus dice.
As I say above, chargen can be much, much faster than you would expect from the phrase “twelve steps.”
Skills begin with a base value which is either the sum of two characteristics or one characteristic doubled. One would have to be a numbers-obsessed min-maxing freak to sit down to determine which characteristics are more useful5. For standard skills the ranking is Dexterity, Power, Intelligence, Charisma, Strength, Constitution, and Size, for professional skills the ranking is Intelligence, Dexterity, Power & Charisma (tie), Strength & Constitution (tie), and Size and in general Intelligence, Dexterity, Power, Charisma, Strength, Constitution, and Size5.
As with other post-Pendragon BRP games, characters have “passions”, issues, places, or people about which they care … passionately. They are in their way the exact opposite of Champion’s Psychological Limitations, in the sense that Psych Lim inhibit characters, but acting in accord with Destined passions makes one more effective. Choose your passions judiciously.
Characters start off with between two to six core powers (depending on campaign power level). Powers are customizable: they can be enhanced with “boosts” or they can be limited. Doing the first means players get fewer powers, while doing the second means they get more. Core powers are generally available all the time, while boosts require the expenditure of the character’s small pool of power points.
Given that many powers are determined by a governing characteristic, you may well wonder if some characteristics are linked to more powers than others. The answer to that is simple6: Constitution, Charisma, Intelligence, Dexterity, Siz, and Strength & Power, in that order.
Tools of the Trade
Allotments and gear explained. Allotments are an abstract financial framework. Gear is technological accoutrements. Note that firearms and many other weapons are gear, not powers. Systems like Champions made players pay points for each item they own, with sometimes ludicrous results. Destined permits one to purchase mundane (and sometimes not so mundane) equipment, allowing players to reserve precious power slots for exotic abilities.
Treating gear as its own thing and not as part of powers is perfectly reasonable, but it seems to me as if the logical outcome of this is that gadget and gun using superheroes will be more competitive in Destined than they are in the comics. (To be determined by experiment.) Although I suppose it does explain how in Marvel Comics, vigilante Frank “the Punisher” Castle, a reasonably fit man with grief management issues, an antihero equipped with body armor, firearms, and a panel van, manages to survive conflicts with bona fide superhumans like Daredevil and Spider-Man.
In Destined, wealth functions as a superpower that is obtained outside the usual powers framework. It is potentially the most useful superpower. I suspect that this explains why the Avengers tolerate Tony Stark and why the Justice League puts up with Bruce Wayne. Also why some superhero gangs form relationships with deep-pocketed governments and corporations.
What it says on the tin. The combat system is detailed. Lethality appears to be tunable; one group might opt to interpret outcomes as incapacitation, while others might prefer a multitude of corpses. Best to make sure players and gamemasters are all on the same page before play begins.
Rules not covered in previous chapters.
The Life of a Hero
Commentary on the issues inherent in the career of superhero-ing.
Creating Your Comic
Advice on running campaigns.
Welcome to Gemelos City
A sample campaign setting.
The Righteous and the Irredeemable
Sample heroes and villains, which I found very useful to double-check that my interpretation of the rules was what the designers intended.
What it says on the tin. Cross-referencing the index to the text suggests that the page numbers in the index are correct. In an ideal world, one would be able to assume that was true. In this case, it appears to be.
1: The cover lists Mike Larrimore, Brian Pivik, Dean Kotz, Roena Rosenberger, and James Turprin, while the frontispiece lists only Larrimore and Pivik. Larrimore and Pivik are the principal writers, while Kotz, Rosenberger, and Turpin were the artists.
Roleplaying games are for the most part group projects: a full list of contributors would consume much of my word count.
2: Waiting for the physical book to arrive delayed this review well past my target date. The fulfillment company claimed to have sent this FedEx, but the tracking number was unreliable at best and the package showed up via Canada Post.
3: If you’re new to BRP-derived games, BRP is a classless, skill-based system whose purpose (way back in the dawn of RPGing) was to present a somewhat more realistic simulation, to the extent “realistic” means anything in a fantasy or science fiction setting. The element players new to BRP are most likely to notice is that characters are comparatively fragile and do not, as a rule, become significantly less fragile over the course of play. A high-level D&D character may dismiss an arbalest bolt to the face as a trifling distraction. BRP characters, newbies and hardened veterans alike, will be decapitated.
4: A particularly durable character might have eight Inherent Armor points. Thus, damage is reduced by eight points. A shotgun does 3d6 damage. The average roll on three six-sided dice is eleven. Therefore, Mr. Invulnerable(ish) can expect each shotgun blast to the face to do three points of damage. Granted, this is far preferable to the eleven points of damage and almost certain instant death or incapacitation a normal person would suffer, but it’s hardly Colossus or Luke Cage level durability.
5: To cover this issue in more detail: there are eighteen standard skills everyone possesses and twenty-six professional skills that require specialized training to acquire. The base rating for each is determined by adding two characteristics or doubling one. One can therefore look at the standard skills as having thirty-six half-slots and professional skills as having fifty-two half-slots.
Standard skills: 18 skills/36 half-slots.
Str 4 half-slots
Professional skills 26/52
Added together the numbers are:
Now, this is a bit misleading because each character will have all the standard skills and only a few professional skills. However, if your core concept is Highly Skilled, prioritize characteristics appropriately.
6: There isn’t a master list of powers and their related characteristics, so I had to page through and make notes. I counted forty-five powers, of which thirty-two were defined by characteristics, as follows
Str 1 power