Add-on Spotlight: Guardians RPG (by David Pulver and Thomas Denmark)

One of the great things about writing and publishing games is that, for the most part, the creator community is pretty cool. Peter Dell’Orto and I wrote the modifications to the grappling system I wrote in GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling into what became Grappling Old School, in Manor #8. After I expanded that into Dungeon Grappling, I asked Tim if I could offer up The Manor Collection as an add-on to this Kickstarter, so folks could see the secondary origin of the rules, as well as experience the tasty goodness that is a whole lot of inspirational content.

Likewise, after Manor #8 came out, Thomas Denmark was writing an RPG, wondering what would have happened if the “first” fantasy RPG, using the classic old-school basic rules system, were to have been a superhero game instead.

Well, he enlisted David Pulver as a co-author, and the two of them set to work. I discuss that in much more detail below. But he also saw the grappling rules, and thought they’d be a great add-on to his game. David and I have known each other for years, and so he approached Peter and me about incorporating them. We said yes.

And when this Kickstarter came out, I asked Thomas if he’d mind me offering Guardians as an add-on. Not only did he say yes, he provided me with a cleaned-up copy, with all errata fixed.

The Guardians RPG

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Guardians is a fascinating study. On the one hand, it applies the basic, old-school mechanics to the superhero genre. You will recognize hit dice, armor class, hit points, and class and level.

On the other hand, the superhero genre is pretty darned wide, with power levels that can get insanely high, and nearly anything under the sun possible in a character concept.

The class-and-level system doesn’t seem to be a terribly good fit for that kind of variety out of the box . . . but Thomas and David give it more than the old (school) college try.

What emerges is a game that is neither Champions nor GURPS nor basic OSR-style fantasy gaming, but rather a fairly interesting hybrid of all of them.

The Basics

If I had to define the basics of this style of gaming, it would revolve around class, level, and a small number of basic attributes. Some of that isn’t even necessary – one of the challenges in Dungeon Grappling for the OSR rule sets was how to define quantities like Control Maximum for monsters for which you are given little but their Armor Class, Hit Dice, and Hit Points.

Guardians starts out by taking one of the more obvious superpowers – sheer might – and assigning a scale to it that gives a range from a human infant (ST 2-3) to a level where you can move around Earth’s moon (ST 96-97).

It then gives a selection of eight possible origins (from Human to Mutant to Super Alien) and four archetypes – character classes – that form the basis of the character template.

Each origin gives a mix of modular Gifts, Powers, Limits, and Issues – and some special notes. Each class gives an experience point progression (super-agents advance to 10th level twice as fast as Gadgeteers or Power Wielders, and about 1.25x faster than Bruisers). As you level, you get better at what you do – gaining new powers or gifts, extra gadgeteering points, or more energy points that allow you to fuel your super-abilities.

Modular Concepts

Where the superhero genre gets deep is in the variety of heroes it supports. From Batman (really smart, really strong, really trained, and really vulnerable to bullets) to Galactus (a GM NPC mixed with a plot device) and extending to a huge range of ability and power in either direction. How do do that in a game based on class and level?

Guardians uses modular slots, in a way.

Gifts (things like a sidekick, a secret base, or a huge list of contacts from your day job as a reporter, or being a zillionaire) give you capabilities that act as force multipliers in many cases.

Powers are what it says on the tin – superhuman abilities. The types, limits, and descriptions of the powers occupy almost a quarter of the book. Each has a description, a cost to use, and special effects. And the GM is encourage to help the player make up their own. Very Old-School flavored.

Limits go hand-in-hand with powers, and includes such fun tropes as “Depowered by X,” where X might be funky green space rocks.

Issues represent disadvantageous plot elements or devices, such as having a kid reporter who’s always getting in trouble, a loved one who’s always getting in trouble, a child who’s always getting in trouble . . .

Game Play

After character generation, the game will play out fairly similarly to other OSR-flavored games. Lots of theater of the mind, and combat resolution and task resolution will feel conceptually similar to games with a similar background. To my mind, this is the primary reason to go down this path in the first place: the game is pretty instantly accessible to 90% of the gaming market.

Game Design 201

I’d strongly encourage folks to check this out, both as a playable game in its own right, but also as a worked example of how to build off of the basic old-school rules and come up with something really interesting.

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