Heroes Unlimited: GM's Guide
Heroes Unlimited: GM's Guide Capsule Review by FlashFire on 01/06/01
Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 3 (Average)
Superhero GMing for Beginners
Product: Heroes Unlimited: GM's Guide
Author: Kevin Siembieda and Wayne Breaux
Company/Publisher: Palladium Books
Line: Heroes Unlimited
Page count: 224
Year published: 1999
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by FlashFire on 01/06/01
Genre tags: Modern day Superhero
What were you thinking, buying this?
Tell, you the truth, I don't remember. I probably picked it up because it said Heroes Unlimited on the cover. That, and the Rampage Combat rules. The book is advertised as being "full of tips, suggestions, and examples on how to create, run, and play adventures" in a comic book style roleplaying game. Maybe I'm thick, but superheroics doesn't exactly seem like a deep genre. It shouldn't take much to run a campaign for characters who run around wearing tights and beating up bad guys.
So, what's up with the book?
The book starts out with a Question and Answer section, covering a number of the problems raised by holes in the Heroes Unlimited 2nd Edition game. Some of the questions are good ones, like the one dealing with the troublesome Automatic Dodge ability, while others are a waste of valuable column space, like why the game has three different levels of super strength. Still, its nice that the writers took the time to answer a few of the questions that have bothered Palladium players for years.
Next up is the Villain section. I'd like to give this section a good rating, but I can't. The villain "suggestions" take up one page and aren't all that in-depth. The section tries to redeem itself by including Random Villain Tables and data on "normal" people. The tables are handy, but I've never really found time in the middle of a session to roll up a random villain. Either I just make up the stats on the spot or have to spend the time to roll up an average bad guy before the session. A generic villain would have been better than a random table. Following those is a quick blurb on the fact that running around beating up alleged bad guys is against the law. There's a handy table of average sentences for various crimes. For fun some time, I'd like to use this table to come up with a total amount of time a character would spend in jail for all the actions they take. Most of my players would probably be doing multiple life sentences within the first session.
The book improves some in the next section, a part covering Playing in Character. Why this is in the GM's Guide and not in a Player's Guide, I don't know, but there is only one section that really deals with GM action. There is a lot of good stuff for players, assuming they don't already have the whole superhero thing down already. It covers all the bad things that happen when you take evil actions when you're supposed to be a hero, the value of having a secret identity, problems working a job and fighting crime at the same time, and even has rules on sleep deprivation. The majority of this material should have been included in the Main Book, but at least it showed up somewhere.
Next up are the Super-Brawling rules. Now, the majority of this material is pretty neat. I haven't had a chance to use any of it, other than the damage rating given for hitting someone with another person, but it includes new combat rules that any idiot can use. Power Slams, Two-Handed Power Punches, and Power Throws show up here, mimicking those really big comic book fights that leave entire tracts of cityscape uninhabitable. Once again, a neat addition that should have been in the Main Book.
Next up comes some of the real GM advice, Running Adventures. Now, most of this stuff is of use only to beginning GMs, but interspersed in there is good material for people who have been running for centuries, like me. Included is a random adventure table. A number of GM's hate random tables of all kinds, but I've always found them good for providing seeds for adventure ideas. They help a GM or a player keep from falling into the same old ruts with design. In any case, this table is fairly good, providing random villain types, crimes, motivation, and odd complications to have in the middle of the adventure.
The next hundred pages is taken up by ten adventures. I've never had the best of luck with pre-designed adventures, so I've only glanced at this part. They look like standard Palladium fare, well-designed so long as one is willing to go along with the storyline. The adventures that need them include maps, a handy trait that I wish every roleplaying book had.
Following that up is an expanded list of spells for magic-wielding heroes. I've always found magic in a super hero game to be somewhat lame, so I tend to only trot out the spell-slingers when a player decides that running an Invulnerable character would be neat. The majority of the spells here don't do much to change that opinion, since most of them are straight out of Rifts and Palladium Fantasy. Just another bunch of spells for another spellcaster.
Rounding out the book is the equipment that was missing from the Heroes 2nd. Most of the gear is stuff that was in the Revised edition of the main book but cut from the 2nd edition, presumably due to page count. Fortunately, though, there are a number of new guns; including the H&K G11, the .50 cal McMillian sniper rifle, and the Colt Anaconda .44 Magnum; as well as some new underwater and military vehicle types. This new selection helps improve the problems the Main Book had with gear. At least some of this gear is actually from the '90s.
Yeah, right, but what about the pretty pictures?
Layout? Its Palladium. They haven't changed their layout for twenty years. Its functional, just not pretty. Once again, though, the book suffers from an inability to keep all the rules in one location. This forces those of us who have to use the book to flip around for needed information, slowing game play immensely.
Interior art is once again done by a wide variety of artists. Michael Wilson's work appears to be the slickest, with Wayne Breaux showing up every so often. Someone new makes an appearance here, by the name of Will Warren, and shows his heavy anime influences. The tendency to reuse artwork from previous books that was such an eyesore in the Main Book doesn't make as much of an appearance here. I picked out a couple of shots that looked like pure Rifts or Palladium Fantasy every once in a while, but they were few and far between. Overall, the artwork supports the superhero feel of the book, but does little to further the content of the book.
Worth the dough?
I still pick the book up every so often, but $20.95 is a bit steep for the use I get out of it. Those who like pre-designed adventures would likely get more use out of the book than I did, as would first time GMs. But, if you're like me and have been GMing longer than my players have been playing, you'd be better off saving your pennies and picking up a few issues off the comic racks.