By MICHAEL ERB
PARKERSBURG - During World War II there were great heroes, but there also were those who were something more. Something greater than human. Something godlike.
“Godlike” is a role-playing game about super heroes during World War II. But “Godlike” isn't your normal super-powered game. The heroes, called Talents, are normal people with extraordinary powers, but who ultimately are still very human.
The Talents in “Godlike” don't dress in spandex and capes while soaring into war. That's like wearing a giant target on your back. Instead Talents tend to work in small groups, just like a regular military unit, and conceal their extraordinary abilities when possible. The Talents have great power, but ultimately are tools in the war, and a player character's ability to affect the course of the war is limited and dependant more upon the success of missions rather than just on personal actions.
Powers in the game are called Miracles, and are one of the really cool aspects of “Godlike.” Though characters may be able to perform incredible feats of strength or defy gravity, there are limitations. You might be able to dead-lift a tank above your head, but only if no one is looking. You may be able to fly, but anti-aircraft fire or even a lucky rifle shot will bring you down. You may be able to run faster than a speeding bullet, but have to recite a prayer or some other psychological trick to get yourself to move that fast.
The trick to powers in “Godlike” is to have powers be extraordinary but narrowly focused, and to figure out how to use them within those constraints. That is one of the most fun aspects of the game, finding ways to use your powers to give you the advantage. Add into that the ability to cancel or disrupt the Miracles wielded by other Talents (which is why Talent-vs.-Talent battles didn't dominate the war) through a contest of Wills, and you have an almost chess-like game of strategy set during a confusing and lethal war.
“Godlike” uses 10-sided dice and a system called the One Roll Engine (ORE). The system uses dice pools, meaning if you have four points in a certain stat, like strength (Body), then you roll four dice when using the stat. Powers basically work the same way, and most contests between characters or situations use one of the character's main stats (Body, Coordination, Sense, Brains, Command and Cool) plus the relative skill or power to determine how many dice are rolled. In order to maintain a chance of failure, you can never use more than 10 dice in a single contest.
One of the cool aspects of ORE is the ability to determine not only whether you succeed in a dice roll, but also how well you do. This is called Height and Width. Successes are determined by matched dice, so if you roll five dice and come up with 2,3,4,4 and 6, your success would be your pair of fours. The Height of the roll would be a 4, so provided no one gets matches higher than a 4, you would win the conflict. The higher the number, the more powerful the effect, and you have to get a Height higher than a 2 to succeed. The Width is how many matches you get, and determines how quickly an effect occurs, with more matches meaning a faster effect.
Some powers and situations give you the ability to add Wiggle Dice, where you just decide what number they should be (so you could create a pair and a success or increase the Width). There also are Hard Dice, which are always 10s. Those most often represent powers that are on full blast whenever used, so you don't have the ability to do less than full damage or move at less than full speed.
The book does a great job of setting the stage of World War II, using a combination of historical and fictional history, with the fictional bits being marked with a bullet-hole symbol. The game book also uses lots of stock photography from the real war, with many of the pictures slightly altered to add flying men and other Talents. Add to that some really good fiction that sets forth the idea of both the Allies and Axis using but ultimately mistrusting and trying to destroy Talents when possible, and you have an incredibly realistic and compelling game.
The greatest strength of “Godlike” also is its greatest weakness: The setting. World War II was a time of great heroes but also of terrible tragedy, sacrifice and personal horror. The heroes of “Godlike” feel human, and it can be very difficult to role-play out some of the darker aspects of war that are so important to the setting. When a character dies, which is very likely in the course of the game, you as a player feel it. Again, this is strength of the game and a huge compliment to the creators, but at the same time can be a big turnoff for players looking for more four-color style super heroics and a lighter subject matter.
In fact, with as good a game as “Godlike” is, I've had trouble finding players willing to play, mostly because the setting is intimidating and a little depressing. I had one player push the book aside almost instantly and say "I don't play games about war."
Now, one of the nice things about pen and paper role-playing games it the ability to play them how you want, so it wouldn't take too much effort to shake up some of the rules and alter the setting to meet your needs and the desires of the group. Want to make things more comic-book like? With a little work and a few tweaks, you can do that. Want to have more Talent-versus-Talent battles and less horrors of war? You can do that too.
Ultimately “Godlike” gets a huge recommendation from me with one caveat. Know that while the One Roll Engine and the game setting are excellent, the writing is top-notch and the game does exactly what it sets out to do, the subject matter might be a little too much for some players, so know your audience. You can tell some extraordinary and compelling stories with “Godlike,” but I would definitely consider it for a more mature audience.
For more information on “Godlike,” visit http://www.arcdream.com/godlike/. For more game reviews and discussion, visit my blog at http://merb101.livejournal.com, and feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.