Godlike Capsule Review by Frank Sronce on 25/05/02
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
looking at the dice system in detail
Author: Dennis Detwiller and Greg Stolze
Company/Publisher: Pagan Publishing
Page count: 354
Year published: 2001
SKU: HBG 1000
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Frank Sronce on 25/05/02
Genre tags: Historical Superhero
"Superhero Roleplaying in a World on Fire, 1936-1946"
I'm supposed to be reviewing my comp copy of DangerQuest, but I ended up picking up Godlike last weekend and I found it fascinating enough that I figured I ought to review it first.
I knew the basics of Godlike already... an alternate history of World War II, where stress and hardship caused many people to start manifesting superpowers on both sides of the war. These super-soldiers (called Talents) greatly changed individual events without really altering the course of history at all. Basically, because both the Axis and the Allies had Talents on their side, they tended to cancel each other out.
I started by skimming the powers section, which seemed fairly thorough. Then I skipped to the setting / history sections, which I found fascinating. This section alone is probably worth the money, in my opinion. There's a 150 pages of altered world history, tracing the entire course of the war. There are text descriptions of many of the famous Talents from the war, designed to look like military dossiers (it's cute that these were written after the war, and mention things like the date and manner of death of people who lived through the war). A particularly nice part of the history section is that they mark each entry with a "bullethole" symbol if it has any fictional parts (ie- any mention of Talents).
The setting is great. I'm fully happy with my purchase, just for that.
The actual dice system, though... well, I'm glad I bought the book for its setting and not the rules. It reminds me a bit of Ironclaw... I read the rules and think "This definitely has potential. Sure, it's got some special case rules that are totally hosed, but for the most part it definitely has potential."
First, you figure out how many d10s you have to roll... it's usually the sum of your stat and your skill unless it's a superpower, in which case it'll be the dice rating of your power. Then you roll all of those dice and see how many matches you get. The cute bit about the system is that the number of matching dice is the "width" of your result (at least a pair is normally necessary to get any kind of success at all) and the value of those dice is the "height". So if you rolled 4d10 and got 1, 3, 3, 4, you'd have a result of 2x3 (two threes). The width of the roll is how fast you did whatever you were trying to do (wider is better), while the height is how well you did it (higher numbers are better).
This is definitely an interesting resolution mechanic. If you get more than one match, you get to choose which one you want. So if you rolled 8d10 and got 1,1,1,1,4,6,8,8, you'd have a choice. You could choose to get 4x1 (you succeed very quickly, but the quality is poor) or 2x8 (you succeed at the normal speed, but the quality is high).
So they manage to combine both speed and quality into one roll. This makes it easy for the GM to set two different kinds of difficulty. That is, if a PC needs to repair a car in record time (before the Nazis show up, perhaps), he might need to get at least 3 or 4 of a kind to do it fast enough. Or if the job were particularly difficult (no tools, perhaps), the GM can rule that the height of the roll must be at least 4, so a 4x3 roll would still be a failure (not good enough) while a 2x6 roll would pull it off. Very cool.
Unfortunately, when they get into specifics stuff starts to get awkward. Particularly combat. Okay, they wanted combat resolution to be fast... so they kind of change the way the dice system works. During combat, everyone declares what they want to do, then rolls. Whoever gets the widest result acts first... and if it was an attack, then the height of the roll determines where you hit the target. It's a hit location system, with higher numbers being more critical locations (1-2 legs, 3-6 arms, 7-9 torso, 10 head). Oddly, the damage from the attack is determined by the width of the roll, rather than just being a constant. This means that if an attack was really fast, it was also particularly deadly.
Defenses tend to "gobble" dice from a set, reducing its width. If the width drops below 2 (a pair), then the attack turns into a miss. So dodging doesn't affect where you get hit, it affects the damage you take from it.
When something makes your attack easier you add bonus dice to the roll (but no roll can ever be above 10 dice, for... well, no particularly good reason other than that failure in a "typical" task would become impossible). If something makes it harder, you lose dice.
So we get a few odd artifacts of the system here... a really fast attack always ends up doing extra damage. There may be some rules for "snap shots" that increase the effective width of an attack while making the attack harder, but I haven't found 'em.
Here's another oddity... if the difficulty of an attack goes up, then certain hit locations become untargetable. For example, the rules for dodging and weaving to try and avoid being shot are weird: they say that the difficulty of the attack increases to 3 (meaning that the height of the attack must be 3 or more to be successful). This is stupid. Since the height of the result determines the hit location struck, it means that when someone is dodging and weaving it becomes impossible to shoot them in the leg. Even a called shot to the leg will automatically fail. That's messed up- dodging and weaving should cost the attacker a single die from their pool, making it the opposite of aiming.
A called shot works like this: you drop one die from your pool, in return for the ability to take one of the remaining dice and set it to whatever number you want instead of rolling it. So if you want to shoot someone in the leg, you might reduce your die pool by 1, then set one of the dice to 2. Then you roll the rest... if any of the others come up 2, then you'll hit them in the leg. Of course, if the target was dodging and weaving, then any value below 3 wouldn't count, so you'd still miss... I'll definitely change the dodge & weave rule when I run it.
There are two kinds of damage- Shock and Killing damage. At the end of battle (when your adrenalin fades) you get to recover 1/2 of the shock damage you took. And shock damage heals pretty easily, so you'll probably be back to full health in a day or so. Killing damage is serious injury and requires surgery and/or weeks of rest to recover. Each hit location can only take a certain amount of damage (the head is the most fragile, with only 4 wound boxes). If every wound box gets filled up (with either shock or killing) the location is disabled. If you take extra shock damage, it starts turning shock points in that location into killing points. When a location is filled in with all killing points, it's pretty much shot off; if it was your head or torso, you die.
Armor helps. There are two kinds- Light Armor (flexible stuff you could wear) and Heavy Armor (ie- steel plates). Light Armor reduces the Shock damage to 1 point, then converts as many points of Killing damage to Shock as its armor rating. Heavy armor reduces the "width" of the attack instead, generally reducing both Shock and Killing damage. Most attacks do stuff like "Width in Shock & Killing damage" or "Width in Killing damage" or "Width in Shock plus 1 point of Killing". So a gunshot (width in shock & killing) with a width of 3 would inflict 3 shock and 3 killing to the target location. Here's another incongruity- under certain circumstances, it looks like Heavy armor becomes inferior to Light armor, because Light armor stops Shock damage better.
Let's say someone shoots at you with a pistol, and you're cowering behind a 1" thick wooden barrier. That's treated as 1 point of light armor. If you took a 2x10 hit, you'd take 2 points of shock and 2 points of killing to the head... the wooden barrier would reduce the initial shock to 1 point, then convert 1 point of killing to shock, so you'd end up taking 2 shock and 1 killing.
If the wall were thicker (6" wood acts as heavy armor 1), instead the attack would become a 1x10 and would be stopped cold (you need at least a pair to do damage). That's great.
But suppose the gunman rolled 4x7 instead? That's 4 points of shock and 4 points of killing to the torso. The guy behind light armor would reduce the shock to 1 point, then convert 1 point of killing to shock, taking 2 shock and 3 killing. The guy behind the heavier, thicker barrier would... reduce the width to 3 and take 3 shock and 3 killing. Yes, in particular circumstances, this oddity of the system means that you might take more damage if protected by better armor.
Oh, well. If you're a rules-junkie like me, this stuff will bother you, but the typical player probably won't notice.
I mentioned Gobble Dice. Basically, if you are trying to dodge or counteract some sort of power with your own power dice, you roll normally. If you get a success (at least one pair), your result is your gobble dice. Each gobble die can be expended to subtract 1 from the width of your opponent's result, provided that the height of the attacker's set isn't better than yours. So if you dodged and rolled 4x3, you'd be able to subtract up to 4 from the width of any attacks of height 3 or less. If someone rolled 5x3, you'd be home free... subtracting 4 from that makes it a 1x3, which is a failure. If they rolled 6x3, you'd just reduce it to 2x3 and still get hit. If they rolled 2x10, you'd be toast; all of your gobble dice were threes, so they can't affect dice that came up 4 or higher.
The rules imply that you can't dodge at all if the attacking roll is wider than your defense, so it looks like my example about 4x3 vs 5x3 is wrong. This brings up another system oddity- the more deadly an attack is gonna be, the less likely you are to be able to do anything about it. ie- If you roll 3x6 defensively, you are helpless if your foe rolled 4 x Anything or Anything x (7 to 10). Since the width of the attack determines the damage and the height of the attack determines how vulnerable of a spot you got hit in, the deadlier the shot the harder it is to gobble anything from it. Makes the system look rather lethal.
There are two special kinds of dice, though, that are only available for Talents. They can be part of your stats or skills or powers, just like ordinary dice. "Hard" dice are generally twice as expensive as regular dice, and always roll 10s. You don't actually bother to roll them- they automatically result in 10s. "Wiggle" dice are four times as expensive as normal, and are even more powerful. With Wiggle dice, you wait until after you've rolled all of your regular dice, then you set the Wiggle dice to whatever value you want, so that you can make the best possible match.
So if you have 2 hard dice in a skill, you are guaranteed to always roll at least a 2x10. In fact, you may have trouble rolling anything else, which causes them to have a weird rule about how hard dice don't always result in head shots, it's just that wherever you hit someone, it's always a really vulnerable and potentially lethal spot. This means that someone who bought hard dice can't use them for a called shot to someone's leg, for example. You have the option of not using your hard dice (just ignoring them), but you can't choose for them to be something other than 10s. I don't know if I like that rule... I think if I run Godlike, I'll probably make Hard dice more like Wiggle dice and say that you can set them to whatever value you want... you just have to do it before you roll instead of afterwards.
Okay. The superpowers available in Godlike are really impressive- with 100 to 150 points, you could make a very potent character who could shrug off bullets and tear apart tanks with his bare hands. Of course, in the standard game, you'll get 25. Which means you can make an infantryman with one or maybe two minor powers and you can't afford to be bulletproof because it's too expensive (there's an example in the combat section of a character with 40 points of Immunity to Kinetic attacks who gets killed by one Nazi with a submachine gun because his power can't stop all of the damage... and when you get injured your immunity turns off and he gets shot again before he can turn it back on). The default power level is definitely aimed at a very gritty, low-powered game.
The example PCs in the back bear this out... for instance, one character spent all 25 of his power points on the ability to run up walls and ceilings... and it only works so long as he maintains a full running speed, making it a lot less useful than it might otherwise be, but bringing the point value down to 25.
They give you stats for the first ten known Talents... and these guys range from 25 point characters up to 150 points.
So most of the game support is for low-end Talents. They recommend this, because this way you'll probably be able to stick to the real-world timeline more easily. Of course, I suspect a lot of people will prefer to play more "Godlike" characters... I definitely would.
The basic power system is like this- the more potent the power, the more each die costs. The more dice you have, the more powerful it's liable to be and the easier it is to turn it on. Powers are rated with 4 major cost adjustments... there's a very minimal base cost per die, which goes up according to how useful the power is. The 4 cost categories are Attacks (the power can be used offensively), Defends (can be used to defend yourself from attacks), Useful out of Combat (it's good for more than just fighting) and Robust (you don't have to do anything special to invoke it). So straight Telekinesis would be expensive, because all 4 categories are true. If your TK was super-slow, so that you couldn't attack or defend with it, it would be a lot cheaper. If you had to point your hands and chant something to use it, then it wouldn't be Robust, and each die would be cheaper.
It's pretty straightforward once you see it, and there are a lot of example powers already statted out for you. Superskills and Superstats basically work by letting you buy extra dice for those abilities... for example, if you bought two "Hard Dice" in "Pilot Airplane", you'd be a fabulous pilot, because you'd always roll at least 2x10 every time.
There's also a big section on the setting, and what the world (particularly the US) was like the during the war. This is great, and very entertaining just to read. They have some nice touches, like a glossary of slang that notes which terms are real and which only exist in Godlike.
The "Field Manual" gives you specs for all sorts of firearms, guns and personal armor from the war. There's a lot of detail here, but be warned- some of it is obtuse and a few of the tables appear to have incorrect headings. I couldn't find anything that explained why the tanks had armor ratings like "6 to 1", either. It might mean that this tank has a heavy armor of 1 in its most vulnerable spot, and 6 in the most heavily armored, but it's not exactly clear.
The GM section is really nice, though. It explains a lot of optional rules and what sort of campaigns to use them in and has a very nice discussion of mission types and military life. There's also a writeup of the TOG (Talent Operations Group), which is the group that the US put all of its Talents in. There are stats for the officers and a bunch of example characters. All low powered, of course, but that's the default setting. 40-50 point characters would be a lot more powerful.
Optional rules cover a lot of ground like making the dice system more lenient (it lets you "shrink" the width of a roll to increase its height or vice versa), or making it nastier (there are a lot of very unpleasant sounding options for increasing the realism of taking damage). Ah, and here's an explanation of the heavy armor ratings for tanks... I was right, the "range" indicates the minimum and maximum heavy armor ratings, depending on where you end up attacking it.
The back, as I said, has stats for the first 10 Talents who appeared. A lot of them are very powerful people, like Der Flieger (who can tear apart airplanes just by zooming past them at incredible speed) or Zindel (whose power to turn people to pillars of salt is so potent that it affects anyone who tries to attack him, whether he's aware of them or not). These are high powered NPCs, and could be very important in any game.
The last appendix consists of rules for porting Godlike to the D20 system. It seems quite functional. They add a "Cool" stat, and then let you buy points in powers normally. Instead of rolling a bunch of d10s, you'll roll 1d20 and add your rank in that power. For example, the "Harm" power costs 5 per point and does a base d6 damage, and you can add more d6 to it at a cost of 2 per. So if you had 20 points to spend, you could have an energy blast that did 6d6 but you'd only be rolling d20 2, or you could take one that just did 1d6, but you rolled d20 4 instead.
The binding on mine was a little messed up- the covers are kind of bowed out. No big deal, really, and I've heard that the company has already said that they'll replace this sort of thing if you ask. I doubt I'll bother. I'm not that picky.
Anyway, overall, I am still very impressed with Godlike. This is a really cool game. I don't want you to think that just because I have problems with some of the rules, or some tables are messed up, that I dislike it. I could rant about the setting for a long time, but I think it's already been reviewed pretty thoroughly on RPG.net, and I wanted to discuss the actual system instead.
The interior art is all black and white, and consists almost entirely of old photos... they really add to the ambiance. Oh, and there's a nice bibliography and a 8 page index. Woo-hoo! I love books with good indices.
All in all, I give Godlike 5 points for style and 4 for substance. I'd just hope that for a second edition that they tweak the system a little bit in places, first.