Monday, July 19, 2010

Review of Truth & Justice (Reprint)

Introductory Note: I've been asked a fair amount the last couple of days about Truth & Justice, a superhero RPG I've long been a fan of. It definitely draws comparisons to both Marvel FASERIP and the more recent ICONS RPG. I thought the best way to discuss T&J a bit more was to reprint one of my old reviews of the game, from the original RPG Blog (I), way back in July 2005!. Normally, I don't do reprints, but I thought it justified in this case. Thanks for reading!

I have a lot--and I mean a lot--of Supers-genre RPGs on my shelf. So when I was given the chance to review Atomic Sock Monkey's newest offering, Truth & Justice, I wasn't sure what to expect. On one hand, I thought Chad Underkoffler's Dead Inside was a fantastic game, and I am rather fond of the utilitarian Prose Descriptive Quality (PDQ) system, but what would this game bring to an arguably crowded Supers market? Turns out, a lot.

T&J uses the PDQ system to great effect here. If you haven't seen PDQ in action in Dead Inside, it's a vaguely-FUDGEy system that manages to present perfectly serviceable mechanics while not interfering with game play. PDQ also presents three various ways to resolve a situation: one, if the respective skill or action has a higher rating than a difficulty modifier, it immediately works (sort of a pass/fail bit). The second resolution method is a slightly more complex system, wherein a dice roll accompanies the various skill or rating to surpass a target number. a continual back-and-forth battle, not unlike a duel, until one character calls it quits. Lastly, there is a continual back-and-forth battle, not unlike a duel, until one character calls it quits. All three work, and work without much complication.

My first sigh of relief came when I realized T&J was not a "freeform" Supers game, nor was it a my character can do x+23 squared, whereas yours can do x+23 cubed. That is to say, there's enough meat on the system here that there won't be arguments over accurately portraying the super-strength of The Hulk, versus that of, say, Spiderman. Your average stat or ability in this game is centered on 0. Aunt May, for example, might have a -2 (Poor) Strength, I would likely have an Average, or 0, Strength, whereas Captain America would have +6, or Master Strength. The game also scales between normal attributes and supers, so that +6 Normal Captain America is strutting around with would be nothing compared to The Hulk's +6 Super-strength. There's a very handy chart in the game that cross-references abilities vis-a-vis the attribute scores, so there is no doubt what a +2 or +4 means in any particular situation. The scaling between normal and super also provides a simple mechanic for a greater range of ability description.

As always, with PDQ, the system consists basically of what I stated above. Everything--be it a trait, a skill, or an attribute, or defined as qualities. Individual games can tailor the quality system to as specific or general as they like. If they want the character quality "Detective" to cover the gamut of all detective abilities, that's fine. A more detailed game, might split it into Forensics, Investigation, and Street Smarts. Like the rest of the PDQ system, it's enjoyably scalable.

In the first few pages, we're also introduced to different styles one might wish to employ for their game. Gritty, Four-Color, Cinematic, Animated, and more are described, and tips are given on how one might to wish to play this type of setting. This part was a great resource, and I actually would have like even a bit more in here.

We've already read about how the PDQ system defines a character, and the fairly quick, yet possibly detailed Character Generation follows this to a T. An interesting point to CharGen is the addition of Hero Points. One garners Hero Points during game play by basically--well, being a hero. This could involve foiling a robbery, taking a bullet for an innocent bystander, sacrificing something to stop a villain, and many other actions that fit that whole "heroic vein". In our playtests, it seemed to make the players a bit more willing to risk their skin while not implicitly forcing them to do so. These Hero Points can be used much like Fate or Luck points in other game--increased attack power, discovering vital information, resistance against attacks, and so on. All in all, they fit nicely with the system.

You've been waiting for me to come to the Superpowers part, haven't you? Well, they're all here, from Adaptation to Transformation. The powers are well-described for immediate use in game play, but there are also parameters for designing your own. Powers like "Bolt of (Something)" are always a good sign, as they leave room for expansion and usually mean the writer isn't going completely crazy trying to itemize every power from the past 4 decades of Marvel. T&J also touches on "stunts", or creative ways for powers to be used. It does get boring using the same old ice beam every time--it's nice to come up with a new, ingenious use for it.

The last third of this book is taken up with NPC creations and several sample campaign settings, as well as examples of play. Nice stuff, and the NPCs are handy for those times when you need a quick villain or lackey to throw against your Super-group.

Production value (PDF vesion)? Well, I'm not a big artwork guy, but I do enjoy a clean-cut design with easy-to-read type and highlighted examples. Truth & Justice does all three, and the artwork looks at least respectable in my eyes.

All in all, Truth & Justice was a very pleasant surprise for me, and has quickly moved towards the top of my Supers games list. If I had to say anything, I would say to me it seems to be sort of the spiritual successor to the old Marvel Superheroes game. It's fast, it's fun, and it's got just enough crunch that those wanting to make clear just how fast or strong their character is can do so. I'd feel equally comfortable here creating a well-known DC hero as I would my own creation. I ran both a Saturday Cartoon-esque and a Silver Age-style game with Truth & Justice, and between Chad's continual examples and fun, light writing style, both went quite well. I'm especially appreciative of the fact that T&J can support any of the Supers sub-genres with equal ease.

If you'd like to read a bit more abut Truth & Justice or want to go ahead and pick this game up (which I heartily recommend) visit ASM's Truth & Justice page. There, you can learn more about the game, or try a T&J preview. There's also a great free supplement, Dial S For Superheroes, which gives you 30 illustrated characters to introduce into your game. I can definitely recommend picking it up.

One Last Note: It's been 5 years since I wrote this, and Truth & Justice has held up well. I might want just slightly more "crunch" than T&J offers now, but not by much. If you fall on the rules-lite side of the spectrum, I'd still think it's worth comparing to ICONS, FASERIP, or Resolute before deciding on a new Supers RPG. It's always gratifying to find a game (and review!) has held up over time.