Suggestions for Superhero RPGs

Stepping outside the usual conversations about gritty exploration and monster hit dice … and simply because I’ve never asked anyone in this community :smiley:

  • What Superhero RPGs do you like?
    How much experience do you have playing or GMing those games?

  • What do those games have in common with OSR? (Or what do they *not have in common?)

  • If you don’t have a favorite, what features would you want in a “good” superhero TTRP?


I’m actually hoping the breadth of people in the Cauldron means we get to have a broader discussion than just “Masks” here.

I’ll kind of approach your questions back to front because that’s how the causality works for me, I hope it helps :slight_smile:

what features would you want in a “good” superhero TTRP?

I think superheroes exist in their own world. I don’t think I want to see Superheroes in the current world. Like, honestly, I want superhero stories to be elevated, theatrical. In fact I think “theatre” is a great way to think of it, because of the long history between “representation” vs “presentation” as a goal. There has always been space in theatre for things to be “unreal” in a way that comments on reality in a satisfying way, and I think this is what superhero stories need for me. Masks is actually really good at this, because it uses teenage melodrama to elevate. So I’m more interested in Superheroes by way of Pasión de las Pasiones than I am for superheroes by way of, say, Night Witches or The One Ring. I want a system that understands it’s play, and leans into it. I think Kieron Gillian’s DIE RPG has a cool methodology for creating presentational stories as well. Maybe something like the Kids on Bikes system’s phasing?

My point is that, overall, I want the stakes of Superhero stories to be a representation of internal conflict, right? The question isn’t “can our heroes stop the dam from exploding and flooding their hometown”, it’s actually more about “what is our hero’s place in the world and can they move forward while tethered to the past”. Games that carry good B-stories are great for this. Basically I want my superhero stories to be a good procedural. How do you do that? Shiiiiiiit if you figure it out let me know.

What do those games have in common with OSR ? (Or what do they * not have in common?)

Making change. Player characters in OSR games are incredibly empowered. They are put into situations where they can make impact. That’s the story of Superheroes. The question is never about can they, but about should they, or what does it cost. OSR characters are often put into situations where there’s great risk to themselves, where the question is rarely “can these characters reach the shrine of occult nastiness?” but more “will someone die” or “can they do it before X”. Even funnels, the deadliest of OSR flowcharts, are designed to be pushed to a conclusion of achievement. Rarely is the TPK a goal of OSR story design. That’s really similar to Superhero stories

OSR does want to threaten death though. Death is rarely a staple of superhero stories, or at least not for important characters. An explosion in the puppy factory doesn’t kill the patron, instead it covers them in fur and turns them into the Fluffinator, next season’s enemy. You can’t do a good superhero story with Harm or HP or Death as your stakes of every combat (well, never say never, I’m sure someone is doing it real well!). But without that, clashes between heroes actually feel a bit wet-noodle (this is, IMO, Masks’ biggest problem insofar as the actual clashes between Titans feels…empty?). So somewhere in there you need meat.

What Superhero RPGs do you like?
How much experience do you have playing or GMing those games?

Masks is great. Powered by the Apocalypse, focus on teenage supers. Much more the teenage than the supers. Played it a few times, GM’d once. Did an episode of a podcast on two of the characters.

DIE, as mentioned before is a really interesting take on the structure, and I’d love to see it unfold more. Have never played it though.

Cortex Prime is a solid choice. It uses stunting systems. Overall it needs more growth and development in the system. As in, there’s very little to direct players, like gold or XP in D&D, to push the characters toward adventure and develop change afterward. Very procedural too, in terms of assembling pools and rolling. I wish it were smoother.

World Wide Wrestling is, obviously, not a superhero game. But it is a GREAT example of changing the stakes from the immediate to the presentation. Kayfabe/phases, all that stuff is an awesome game for players to play. Imagine a version of WWW where the “in ring” stuff was Superman, and the Behind the Scenes is Clark Kent. Shit, even better, a Peter Parker/Spiderman one.

Psi*Run is a roll-and-allocate Superhero game. It’s really good at what it does, and I just want to see it developed on more. Like, it’s so perfect for the session it offers, but it doesn’t offer anything outside of it’s proposed session. It’s so great for what it is, though. I’m Abed screaming “SIX SEASONS AND A MOVIE” because I just want more.

Age of Sigmar: Soulbound is a great trad superpowered experience. Like Deathwatch before it, games in Warhammer universes tend to have the ridiculous upward scaling that makes for good superhero stories. Haven’t played Soulbound itself, but I’m also well-read enough to know what it is.

Strike! is what I want superheroes to be if you are doing the combat fight thing. It’s dynamic, it’s interesting. It’s all the tactical combat of 4th edition with a LOT of updating in terms of the out-of-combat RP. It draws hard lines between the two, which bothers me not even the slightest. I really like it, and I’d play the SHIT out of a super story in something like that. it’s a shame that it’s about 6 years old and isn’t being updated to a published product at this stage. It really suffers the results of the heartbreakers.

I feel like some White Wolf stuff would fit in here too, but I honestly don’t have the experience with them to comment.


So unfortunately @SidIcarus, one of my answers is Masks. I’ve played probably 30+ sessions, I’ve GMed probably another dozen or so ontop of that.

The reason I like Masks is because of the framing. I am personally not interested in playing essentially super vigilante cops upholding the status quo. Masks by design sets up the situation as TEENS who need to figure out where they fit in in the world. Some of that is absolutely going to try and be the next big superhero, but some is rebelling against what your parents and grand parents did. AND by default a lot of the adults are going to tell the “kids” (the player characters) to “stop messing in things they don’t understand” and such. It’s a great setup for being on the “do the right thing side” but ALSO rebelling against the status quo.

I feel like a lot of other supers games don’t have a good setup for rebelling against the status quo by default. Mostly I see them supporting the status quo.

This brings me to the other “supers” game I really like, which is Leverage. It’s not really “supers”, but you are definitely a team exceptional people who do “the right thing” regardless of what the law and status quo say about it. I’ve played half a dozen sessions and run maybe 10 or so.

Honestly I am going to skip this question, I don’t think I have anything to really contribute with regards to OSR anything.

See above about rebelling against the status quo, but still being on the “do the right thing” side.


Fight me :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

Nah for real, I have no issues with Masks. I love it. But I want there to be more to the conversation than just it. Reddit’s /r/rpg has an obsession with that being the only focal point of these conversations (because of the “vote to the top” system, conversations tend to spin out on a single game, rather than in depth on a topic).

Leverage is an amazing suggestion!


I don’t have a ton to say about the topic overall, but, @SidIcarus , I do think it’s telling that after going through your criteria, the only game you mention that’s marketed as a supers game is Masks.

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A big part of that is I wanted to add more than what you’d find googling “Superhero tabletop RPG”.

But you’re not wrong, there’s something to the way my brain works around games in that…


OK, here is a concrete suggestion: Hit the Streets Defend the Block.

It’s a street level supers game rooted in a particular neighborhood, and all conflict is driven by the neighborhood you create collaboratively. It doesn’t define those conflicts too tightly, it’s certainly possible to just be super cops for the neighborhood, but there’s lots of space to raise questions about what it means to protect a place you love, when and how violence should be used

The game has great neighborhood creation tools, good questions for bringing your team of local heroes together. Characters have to make tradeoffs between between good at Super things vs. Normal things. All in all it asks the players interesting questions, and provides good tools to answer them in play and ask new ones, which is a big part of what I want out of a game.


Fate, both Core and Accelerated editions, particularly FAE I think. Fate is very good in action based narratives. Your aspects drive you to do things, to get in trouble or to do things even better. While Fate is meant to be generic, I think it’s very good, if not best, at super hero games.

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I wasn’t familiar with that game, so I’ll probably check it out at some point. The preview image for the Jackalette character is hilarious.

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One thing a (good) superhero game does that is similar to the OSR (or at least, the NSR) is foreground growth. Power-up moments generally happen in the middle of a fight, not afterwards.

I have to commend Worlds in Peril for explaining narrative scale incredibly well, and how to handle varying degrees of threats in a relatively system neutral way.

Specifically, this section springs to mind as influential to me outside of the game:



The only superhero game I’ve ever run is Venture City, which I modified slightly using FATE Condensed rather than FATE Core, and I ran it for about 3 months. I had a ton of fun, but I think my ideas have changed a bit since that time. Though I’m not sure what I’d do differently today.
I also ran Venture City as a one-shot using Fate Accelerated, so I agree that it’s a very strong fit, at least for one-shots. I also own Masks and think it’s great, but haven’t had the chance to run it yet.

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My answer to “what features would you want in a “good” superhero TTRPG” is admittedly more complicated. I’d want one of two types of superhero RPGs: A Kick Ass inspired superhero RPG, or a Spiderman inspired superhero RPG. And, really, Kick Ass is more of a gritty action movie than it is a superhero movie. A Spiderman, one, though, is done with Masks.

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That’s a really good passage you shared. I wish I knew more about Galaxies in Peril, since that seems like maybe a spiritual follow-up to Worlds in Peril. I’ve heard good things about The Veil, the cyberpunk game by that same publisher.

I have a friend who’s down bad for superhero RPGs, so we experimented with a lot. I’m gonna do a quick overview of the most relevant ones IMO:

Mutants and Masterminds 3e (A.K.A. D20Hero):
I think this is the OG superhero game, at least the most relevant one since its 1st edition. Its a d20 system so the core mechanic is the usual, however it does some pretty clever things with it. Most notable, it has one of my favorite damage systems out there. In short, you save against damage taken: Beat the save, you shrugged it off. Fail by a large difference, you’re knocked out. Fail by a small difference, you’re still up, but you receive a cumulative penalty to your rolls. It executes perfectly the superhero vibe of “you take a thousand hits and keep fighting, but you can still be taken out by a single nasty hit”.
Worth mentioning that this game has a difficult entry barrier. The character creation is by far the crunchiest part, you can do literally anything in the exact way you want, but the most intricate the character, the more number crunching needed.

Four-Color Fate:
Don’t need to say much about this one, is basically FATE Accelerated with some light changes for super powers. Whatever is great about FAE, is great about this. The name is pretty cool.

This one is a bit of a mixed bag. Same creator as M&M, it’s basically a simplified, more narrative version of his earlier game, draws a lot of ideas from FATE.
It kinda became the main option with my group, because at some point some players got a bit tired of the complex character creation, and its way easier to teach if we got a new player.
However, I’m not so sure how I feel about it. It’s definitely good, I like it. But it stands on a weird middle ground of being a light-trad game and light-narrative game, doing a bit of both but sacrificing a lot of either. I still highly recommend it tho.

Tiny Supers:
I think this is by far my favorite one. The whole tinyd6 engine is a great example of a minimalist game, and I think this is the best iteration of it. Tiny Supers just… works, it’s hard to explain. Doesn’t feel lacking, everything you need to run a good superhero game is there, a lot of it is left for narrative agreement, but it never feels like you’re sacrificing something for simplicity, all the boxes are checked.

I will mention Masks here lightly, because I haven’t played it, but I’ve read it and it’s definitely a top shelf superhero game and PbtA.

Well not much, to be honest, they stand in pretty different specters. Even if you’re doing a gritty action game like @SageDaMage mentioned, the focus is much more on action than OSR is. (Also worth mentioning there’s a great TinySupers supplement for that type of game).

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