Posted on November 16, 2009 by spikexan
Available at RPGNow.com
There are two ways to go about writing a super hero RPG. The first is to focus on the Heroes, such as with Marvel Super Heroes, DC Heroes, or Godlike. These games are interested in the setting and world view. They have rules, but aren’t really dictated by them. The second way is to study the philosophy of Super Heroics and then apply some mechanics to it. It is here that we find games like Capes, Truth and Justice, and eCollapse. Here we find ourselves asking questions like “what does it mean to be a hero” or “what kind of choices can I live with.” Both roads can lead to some excellent gaming, but I usually find myself playing the former and reading the latter.
eCollapse is actually a new creature though in that it stems from Godlike. Greg Stolze writes that he’s developing a series of books related to specific aspects of super heroics. This book lays out a new setting unrelated to Godlike except for the possible use of system (the Smear of Destiny option exists for those looking for something new). In fact, for this setting, I prefer the Smear of Destiny rules over the Godlike rules. I’ll get into this more later.
While this is in the Godlike line, it isn’t give the same treatment as Grim War or The Kerberos Club. The layout keeps to a single-column except for when sidebars come into play.
A few places in the book uses a special block style font that looks to be fading out; however, the majority of the book has a typical font. In truth, the game book’s appearance is 90% book and 10% game. I do like the layout of the Smear of Destiny character sheet. (Two Words: Mad Libs).
Artwork is the single biggest disappointment in this book. Stolze tests out raw talent in this book with lackluster results. Using stock artists from deviantart.com in itself is an excellent idea; however, the chosen art proves to bring the book down tremendously. Many talented artists are profiled at deviantart, but you won’t find their best works here. Even the graffiti-styled cover artwork looks like something from a poorly made 1980s RPG like Alma Mater. I know a RPG without artwork is a dangerous proposition; however, fewer good pieces would have gone further than a book full of this end result.
Stolze’s writing does keep the readers tied to the book. His setting is brilliantly tied to present-day fears of commerce and environmental concerns (perhaps that’s the horror of this game for those wondering why a purely super hero RPG is on this site). His writing is light, conversational throughout the book, even when discussing pure game mechanics. Lots of humor is laced into the text and it lends much towards the attitude of the game.
I’m not going to delve into the setting very much, but I’ll give you a taste. Two big factors make up this game. One, all the negative things you hear on CNN are not only true, but moreso. The world has fallen into an economic and environmental nightmare. Two, the technology exists to grant modifications to humans (and animals). These modifications range from various boosts to the brain and body to Acid Barf Mods.
Side Note here. Returning to horror, Stolze wrote a book back in the late 90s with Chad Underkoffler called Break Today. It’s a supplement to the awesome Unknown Armies line. In that game, miracle number 50 on page 34 says:
For the next 24 hours, understand the sub-text of every spoken sentence. Not just the words, but what the speaker thinks and feels about those words.
In eCollapse, we find this modification’s description on page 17:
You don’t understand what’s said, and what’s meant, you get what’s deliberately unsaid.
This says (to me) that Mak Attax opted to go another way in waking up the world. Instead of making it a better place through individual spiritual awakenings, they decided to break the world’s back in a test to see who can survive. Of course, magic isn’t mentioned in eCollapse and there is no reason to think this theory any more than mad ramblings; however, an Invisible Clergy may just want you to believe such a thing.
The setting does support the humor undercurrent though. We have chicken-cow clonings, drug peddlers who lactate their wares, and much more. This isn’t so much a game for Batman and Superman as it is one for Lobo and the Ambush Bug.
The intended system is called the Smear of Destiny because of how Stolze suggests laying the cards out on the table. You spread them all out. When you draw a card, you end up putting back into the spread. Yes, you can remember where certain cards are to get certain results. Before we get to that big mess of cards though, we need to talk about the role deck.
Regardless of which system you use for this game, Stolze intends this concept to be used.
Players draw a card to dictate the core of their character’s behavior for the episode. For example, the King of Hearts “always succeeds when they risk, sacrifice, or endanger themselves to save or protect others.”
Simplicity is the true king to this game. Characters have two basic traits–Valor and Suffering–in this system. The game also has two basic modes of play. Stolze introduces the Tipping Point into the game. Prior to it, death is a rarity. After it, death is much more possible.
Resolving actions is a three step process that consists of action declaration, turning cards over, and then factors and narration. This is one of those systems. Players can narrate certain things; game masters can narrate certain things. Very rarely can they do the same. It’s a matter of taste, but I am so not a fan of this gaming trend. Maybe it’s a submissive-dominant thing.
All in all, eCollapse is a strange brew. The system is quirky enough that I want to check it out. After all, it’s a role playing game and who says the role you play can’t be determined randomnly. I truly like the idea behind that and plan on throwing that out in one of my games. I believe this game to be an experiment . . . tastes will vary. My scores for eCollapse are:
Layout: Three out of Five Dice (Basic)
Artwork: No Dice!
Writing: Four out of Five Dice (Strangeness Abounds!)
Overall: Two out of Five Dice
Thanks to Greg Stolze for my free reviewer’s copy of this game.
Review by Todd Cash