|The campaign of super-powered crimefighters
in the year 2044
Gamescience, Inc., 1977
This was the first commercially available comic book superhero RPG. Donald Saxman acknowledges his game originated from a universe-melding D&D campaign run by Mike Ford in Indiana, where Dungeons & Dragons characters met characters from the comic books.
Superhero 2044 could be classified in several different ways. While it is obviously a comic book superhero game, it could also be considered science fiction, in that it is set, obviously, in the year 2044. Most superhero comics, and the games based on them, have a contemporary setting. While the laws of physics may be set aside, and super-science is commonplace, the world is still recognizably our own. But Superhero 2044 is a world of costumed crime fighters in the future, after a six-day war (no, not the one fought in 1967) reset the world order, and made it possible for the Pacific island nation of Inguria (Shanter Island) to become a leading world power.
Saxman's future history was well designed to make the costumed crime fighting world more believable. The nuclear exchange of the six-day war promoted human mutation, leading to the appearance of super-powered humans; contact with the dying civilization in the Formalhaut system brought alien Formian enclaves to Earth; and technological advances gives citizens of the world easy access to power sources.
Besides the superhero/science fiction classification, Superhero 2044 is a hybrid RPG, in that players do not engage in much role playing. The bulk of the game involves scheduling your superhero character's activity, and the referee resolves the results of these activities on charts with die rolls. In this the game resembles GDW's En Garde!, particularly since the occasional combats provide the real excitement of the game. However, Superhero 2044's combats permit more role playing than En Garde's do, even if the combat system is more primitive.
The most interesting part of Superhero 2044 is its campaign setting, sketchy though this might be. The background has plenty of hooks for a referee to immediately build plots around. The Citizen's Rights Party may start a new program of discrediting superheros to make the ruling New Republican party, which supports superhero vigilante justice, look bad. Player characters may decide to try to join the Hunter Club, an elite fraternal organization that sets deadly tasks for prospective members. The nefarious Dr. Ruby, presumed dead after he triggered the eruption of Mt. Inguri to defeat the Freedom League, may not be dead after all. Mr. Banta, last survivor of the Freedom League, may discover something dangerous among his deceased companions' gear that needs testing. Players may attempt to join the Köln Institute, an organization dedicated to creating the utmost specimens of human ability, but require their graduates to swear an oath to never take a life. We must also not forget the Science Police, that global body of dedicated officers who make sure scientific inventions never again lead to warfare.
Creating a Character
The actual rules are thin and sketchy, even for a game published in 1977. The last nine pages are extra rules added after the first printing, to give the referee more options. Most oddly, Mr. Saxman deliberately did not include any superpowers, to avoid possible copyright litigation. (We won't mention the thinly disguised illustrations of copyrighted characters such as Dr. Strange, the Scarlet Witch and Batman.) Superheroes are classified into three types: Uniques (those who have superpowers), Toolmasters (whose powers depend on the gadgets they build or use) and Ubermensch (normal humans, trained to the apex of human possibility). Players chose their type (which might be considered a character class), and divided 140 points among seven characteristics: Vigor, Stamina, Endurance, Mentality, Charisma, Ego, Dexterity. These characteristics were modified depending on which type of superhero the character was. Players of Uniques and Toolmasters told the referee what type of powers they wanted, and the referee allocated extra points to their abilities to model these superpowers: for example, a superhero who wanted psychic powers might get an extra 50 points in Ego for the purposes of this attack only.
The Combat System
Combat is simplistic. There are four types of attacks: direct physical attack, transformation, mental attacks, and projectile attacks. A direct physical attack requires comparing the attacker's Stamina to the defender's. A table provides a target number, depending on the difference in staminas, and the attacker must roll to equal or exceed the target number on 3d6. For evenly matched opponents, the attacker must roll an 11 or more. If the attacker has 40 or more points more than his opponent, the hit is automatic, while a difference of 31 or more points in the defender's favor means the attacker has to roll an 18. Damage is taken to both Endurance and Vigor. When a figure's Endurance drops to 14 or less, he can only defend; at 1 - 4 points, he is unconscious, comatose at zero, and requires immediate medical attention to prevent brain damage. (In the game world, advances in surgery make virtually any damage recoverable, except for brain damage.) When Vigor drops to ten or less points, the figure is incapacitated. Fists do damage to Endurance only; blunt weapons and martial arts attacks do more damage to Endurance and less to Vigor, and other weapons do equal damage to Endurance and Vigor. Combatants get various modifiers to their Stamina.
Mental attacks work the same as physical ones, except the attacker and defender compare Ego scores. Success means the mental attack has its effect (mind control, an illusion is believed, invisibility, etc.) rather than doing damage.
Projectile attacks use a different system. The attacker rolls a d6 and modifies it according to a table. (For example, extreme range adds 3 to the number). The result is the target number that the attacker has to beat on a second d6 roll. If there is a hit, the body location is determined by a d10 roll, and damage to Endurance and Vigor is taken. Transformation attacks work the same way, except instead of damage, the target is transformed to something else.
Going on Patrol
As mentioned above, Superhero 2044 is more about typical activities of a crimefighter than about role playing. A hero is put through a handicapping scenario, where the referee sets up an encounter, and the character deals with it. How he or she resolves the situation is evaluated by the referee, and the hero's handicap score is evaluated across eight categories, with a score of 1-10 for each: Prevention (stopping crimes before they start), Location (ability to find crimes in progress), Stopping (ability to stop crimes in progress), Capture (the ability to capture criminals), Conviction (the ability to put criminals behind bars), Leads (the ability to obtain information), Damage (the amount of collateral damage), and Injury/capture (what kinds of risks the hero takes).
Once the hero's handicap score is determined, the basic play can begin. Players schedule their character's activities on a log sheet, in six-hour blocks. In addition to patrolling, heroes need to rest, and may also have a job, or need to defend themselves in court from lawsuits involving collateral damage, collaring the wrong person, etc. The referee rolls on a table to determine the number and types of crimes committed in the hero's designated area of patrol while he or she is patrolling, and uses their handicap score and some die rolling to determine the results of those crimes.
Role playing is generally not needed unless the hero is captured and needs to escape a death trap. Successful crimestopping activity will earn the hero some reward money, and eventually boost their handicap score, particularly the Prevention score as a hero becomes better known. The rules recommend that referees not let heroes stop too many crimes, as the game's play balance will suffer when the players have access to too much reward money.
In addition, the referee needs to run periodic handicapping scenarios to re-assess the assigned handicap values. There are some rules that are possibly unique for superhero games: heroes need to budget their finances. Besides lawsuits, heroes need to pay for taxes (crime fighting expenses deductable), telephone service, health insurance, crime-fighting equipment, and newspaper subscriptions (to read about their exploits).
Upgrading the Apparatus
The extra rules tacked on after the first printing include two pages of solo rules, including rules for generating random low-level, non-super powered criminals, and a synthetic scenario machine which can be used to generate random handicapping scenarios. There are also better guidelines for assigning handicap scores to player characters.
After Saxman's solo rules, there are more optional rules with separate authorship (Nick Smith, Pat Shea, Andrew Robinson, and Rusty Neal). They have rules for increasing abilities, including superior melee combat skills mainly taught in the Köln Institute and rules for hiring henchmen. They also revamp the combat systems, creating percentile-based combat rules.
The new projectile weapon system has the referee first sum all the modifiers for the shot for a net score between -6 and +5, then roll percentile dice against a chart that cross-indexes the total modifier against the type of armor the defender is wearing (none, bullet-proof vest, bullet-proof suit, or battle armor). The resultant die roll indicates not only if there is a hit, but what part of a (humanoid) body is struck. Damage is based on another percentile roll on a table, with modifiers for armor, the ammunition type (dum-dum bullets, anyone?), and where the target was hit. Damage is taken to Endurance and Vigor, as before. Each body part has the character's full Vigor score for hit points, and if these are brought to zero, that area of the body is incapacitated. There is also a saving throw table to roll against to see if that part has been injured beyond healing.
Melee combat is still Stamina to Stamina, but there are modifiers for weapon type cross indexed against defender armor type, as well as the standard list of modifiers for attacking from behind, etc. There is a to hit number that must be rolled below on percentile dice to succeed (a Stamina difference of 40+ in the attacker's favor is an automatic hit), and damage to Endurance and Vigor depends on the weapon used. Mental attacks use the same to hit table, but use a different set of modifiers, and compare Ego to Ego. Transformation attacks, on the other hand, now use a simple saving throw mechanic.
The book closes with two sample characters, Sunburst, the Radiant Man (with light powers), and Multiplex, the Multiple Man, who can make duplicates of himself.
Superhero 2044 was no match for the superhero games that followed it such as Villians and Vigilantes, and it quickly vanished from the market. It was also physically crude, with the character sheets from a typewriter, and the rest of the rules dot-matrix printed, with larger type sizes on some pages. However, the patrol rules might be useful if tacked onto other superhero games, and the setting, or at least elements of it, might make amusing additions to a game like Over the Edge. (We're thinking primarily of the Köln Institute, the Hunter Club, and Uniquex, the organization for Uniques.) The setting is tailor-made for superheroics: Inguria's New Republican party has pushed through laws to make costumed vigilanteism their solution to crime, and it includes such gems as the homesteading law that allows heroes who find unoccupied caves in the badlands to take possession for their secret hideouts. The main question we have is that if material needs are so well taken care of in 2044, why are there so many criminals? Supervillains are easy enough to see: twisted geniuses who have to prove themselves, horrible mutant Uniques rejected by human society, Ubermensch who fall victim to the philosophy of might makes right. But why all the common thugs, and the constant stream of muggings, bank robberies, and worse? The campaign setting needed a bit more work to justify superheroics.
Goodnight, Dr. Ruby, whereever you are.