Heroes Unlimited 2nd Edition
Heroes Unlimited 2nd Edition Capsule Review by FlashFire on 31/05/01
Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
"Men and women in tights, makin' the rules and breakin' 'em!"
Product: Heroes Unlimited 2nd Edition
Author: Kevin Siembieda
Company/Publisher: Palladium Books
Line: Heroes Unlimited
Page count: 352
Year published: 2001
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by FlashFire on 31/05/01
Genre tags: Modern day Superhero
What were you thinking, buying this?
Well, I was my group's only GM for about eight years. For that time, I consecutively ran a mix of Heroes Unlimited Revised, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ninjas and Superspies, and occasionally Rifts and Beyond the Supernatural. All in one campaign. The majority of the game, though, was set in Heroes Unlimited. Dead Eye, Arnold, Smash, Shockwave... all memorable characters in one of the longest running games I've seen or heard about. Oy, those were good times.
Now, Palladium's gone and put out a new version of my favorite superhero game. I guess I have no choice but to buy it, don't I? I mean, if it blows chunks, I can always just let it collect dust on my shelves.
So, what's up with the book?
Well, those who've played Rifts, Nightbane, or any of Palladium's other games will recognize the usual rule set. There are a few minor tweaks to the rules from Revised Heroes here and there, notably the attribute caps, but only two of the changes are stand out. The first is the addition of new skill programs and education levels. Medical Investigation finally makes that all-important Criminal Science/Forensics skill more accessible and there is finally a Basic Cop program. The second change is in the Hand-to-Hand combat system. The set of moves is now somewhere between Ninjas and Superspies; with holds, various kicks, various punches, and more; and the old Hereos set. The downshot of this is that the Hand-To-Hand skills were only slightly updated, only allowing characters to take different kinds of kicks. There is no mechanism for taking punches and holds. Quite irritating when it comes time to run a fight.
Also worth mentioning in the rules section are the vehicle combat sets. Whether on land, sea, or air, these rules did not change. Anyone who has seen Heroes Revised or Ninjas and Superspies knows that this is a bad thing. I've managed to get around the rules in Heroes Revised and TMNT: Road Hogs for years by avoiding vehicle combat entirely. Since the rule set didn't change, that means I'm going to have to spend more years continuing to avoid those kinds of fights. The rules are almost consistently unclear throughout the section. Had so much as an example fight been included, it all may have made sense, but as it stands, the set is just a non-specific lump of moves and damage rules. Maybe if the layout were different, maybe if there was an example, maybe if there were an entirely new set of rules... Woulda, coulda, shoulda. Didn't.
Sitting right in the center of character creation, rather than at the start where it should have been, is a piece on superhero tradition and history. At first glance, it looks like a useful guide to showing new players what being a superhero is all about. Unfortunately, it not only fails in that task but is in fact a very quick overview of the history of superhumans in what is now the official Heroes Unlimited world. I'm not a big fan of setting-specific information in a superhero book, mostly because I never needed a setting. Making up my own superhero world was half the fun of GMing the game. Still, there are those that love setting info, so I should mention that the information here is sketchy to the point of non-existence. Attached to it is a quick, and somewhat more useful, guide to roleplaying characters who have to live up to a name that has gone before, such as all the people who have been the Flash or been on the Fantastic Four. Mildly helpful, but I just glossed over it as a mostly unnecessary to my particular campaign world. Its got good ideas, I just didn't need any of them.
Next up are the power categories. Different types of super-heroes are divided into what amounts to classes, based mainly on types of powers and where they got them. Careful examination, or not so careful after the first couple of campaigns, show that the power levels and versatility of characters is weighted heavily towards aliens, mutants, and characters that receive their powers from experimentation. These characters get a wider range of useful abilities than the skill-based ones, such as martial arts masters, technical geniuses, and super spies. Resourceful players can make the skill-based classes work, particularly if the gamemaster caters a bit to them, but if its punchin' villains that they want, powers are the way to go. In that respect, a new addition to the book is meant to mimic the real heavy-hitter heroes, like Superman and Thor. I have to say that this class fails utterly in its task. The category gives a specific set of powers that may or may not be appropriate to the character concept, such as automatically enhanced strength and healing factors. Special additional powers are randomly assigned, such as immortality or no need for food or drink. On top of that, a random list of weaknesses follow that. Just how am I supposed to make Green Lantern or Batman with that?
After the character classes come the power descriptions. Super abilities are pretty specific, rather than generic in a system like Champions. Most of them, though, are pretty balanced. A few exceptions slip through, like Gravity Manipulation's ability to amplify the effects of gravity to fifty times normal. So long as the GM is careful, and knows the powers, most anything the players come up with can be countered.
Psionic power descriptions come next. The only thing special here is that they have been reorganized to follow the pattern used in Palladium's other games, such as Rifts. Magic follows that, once again updated to Palladium's more recent systems, which cost PPE per cast rather than the specific number of spells per day that Heroes Revised used. The last section of the book focuses on equipment. Its worth noting that this is the same equipment section that was in Heroes Revised, Ninjas and Superspies, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, if I recall correctly. That means that Palladium hasn't changed the gear for their modern-day games since the late 1980's. That, plus the removal of the specific gun descriptions in favor of by-caliber damage listings, make me say that Palladium really dropped the ball in the toys department.
Yeah, right, but what about the pretty pictures?
The first thing that smacked me in the face when I picked up the book was the illustration of the Constipated Psionic on page 8. I don't think I've ever seen a sillier expression on a superhero's face than that shot. Beyond that, layout is the same black and white, two-column design Palladium uses in all their books. The only real change is that some of the headers are done in different fonts and sizes than the rest of the book, particularly on power category titles. They stand out a bit more than most of Palladium's books here, but otherwise its the same old stuff they always use. Ho-hum...
Interior art is done by a variety of artists, most all of who draw pretty well. The majority of the artwork doesn't serve much purpose, other than to break up blocks of text. Some pictures are nice, such as an example of a character using a particular power, but most of the shots are just random superheroes doing nothing in particular. Shots like these may look nice, but I'd trade them in a heartbeat for more powers or equipment. Also, I occasionally came across pieces that have been used in other Palladium books. Its a bit distracting to be reading along in a superhero book and then spot a Juicer or a bunch of guys wearing Triax jumpsuits.
Worth the dough?
Depends. I could easily have kept on gaming in Heroes Revised for a long time. The 2nd Edition jump was pretty much unneeded in my case, but the new book did update a number of things to bring them in line with Rifts and all the rest of the crew. Some things were made better, some were made worse, and others stayed the same. I'd have to say that the book was unnecessary, but all the new supplements will be using Heroes 2nd as their base, so I'm pretty much stuck with it.
For others, how well the game works really depends on your group. The specifics of the power categories and abilities call for a mindset that's willing to work within a given rule set. If your group insists on bending rules or manipulating them to get exactly what they want, then this game isn't really built for you. The balance point is too delicate to survive treatment like that for long. But, if you're willing to ignore the need to min-max your characters, Heroes Unlimited works well and for long periods of time.