Sunday, December 29, 2013

Obsolete Simulations Roundup:
The Official Superhero Adventure Game

The Obsolete Simulations Roundup is the brainchild of Tim Snider of the Savage Afterworld blog. For an overview of this bloghop, read Tim's initial post that kicked it off. I also encourage you to hop on over to the other participating blogs (links to which may be found at the bottom of this post).



In the 90s, I was picking up used RPGs left and right at Half Price Books. Not only did I score copies of the original three LBBs for about five bucks total, I also picked up a little beauty known as The Official Superhero Adventure Game for $3.98 plus tax. Though I know of a handful of people that own this game, I'm not sure anyone has seen a copy of this game for sale in the last ten years. About a year-and-a-half ago, I did try to track down the original designer of this game (Brian Phillips).

My goal was to convince him to let me scan the book and help him re-release it (a la Wizards' World), but to no avail. I do have a new lead I'm pursuing and, should it bear fruit, you will all be the first to know.

Okay, so enough rambling about my extreme luck in acquiring this now extremely rare item. Let's get down to the nitty gritty... the game itself.

As it's been noted in a couple of other reviews (reviews from the game's original release noted in a blogpost by Christian Lindke), TOSAG is light on the role-playing and heavy on the combat. But this should be expected of designer Brian Phillips, whose greatest game design fame really came later with the 1988 publication of his Napoleonic wargame rules In the Age of Napoleon.

Even from a character and powers standpoint, the rules are pretty stripped down. Compared to Villains & Vigilantes (which predates it by 3 years) and especially Champions (which predates it by 1 year), the selection of powers and the limits of what they can do seem downright "pulpy." Even the heroes and villains created for the game by Phillips and his "Creative Consultants" (as they're listed on the title page), feel more like the ones you'd find in Golden Age pulp comics, especially as envisioned by artist David Ruhe, who brings them to life in the pages of TOSAG.

In some ways, the book feels more like a glimpse into the campaign world created by Phillips and his compatriots, rather than a game written to be played by others. But it's that homebrew feeling that gives TOSAG its charm. With hero names like Atomic Man and Mask (who, BTW, looks a lot like the Watchmen's Rorschach, only without the patterns on his face) and villains like Black Angel and Fascist Gladiator, that pulp vibe I mentioned earlier is reinforced. The production value supports this as well, with the entire thing appearing to have been typed on an IBM Selectric.

Given all the above, you can see how this game just couldn't grab a foothold. Yes, it was part of the first wave of Superhero games, but it was late to the game. Add in the lower production value and its focus on combat, and it's easy to see why it didn't stand much of a chance.

There was talk a few years back on a miniatures board by one of Phillips's friends that a second edition was in the works (playtested, ready to go, and in need of an artist and production help), but I fear the only interest in this game name now would be as a reprint of the original (much in the vein of Wizards' World).


3 comments:

  1. I thought I knew about most super RPGs (big fan), but this one takes the cake for "never-heard-of-it"-ness. (I love the character name "Fascist Gladiator".) I love these small locally-produced RPGs, and it sounds like this would be a fun one to bring out and run at a convention. Thank you for bringing it to our attention and thanks for participating in the Roundup!

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  2. Interesting bit of gaming history. I've never heard of this game before, so it was fun to read about it. Maybe they should donate this game to Plagmada, so it's preserved as a specimen of the old days of the hobby...

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  3. Bought a copy of this at Compleat Strategist, probably 20 years ago. Vaguely funny reference in a fanzine or apa post by someone giving his ultimate christmas present list. He said something like, "I want Christina Applegate..oh, whoops, wrong list." Then started listing rpgs he wanted, and said something like "The Official Superhero Adventure Game...naah, I'd have more chance of getting Christina Applegate."

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