by Andy Vetromile
Basic Action Super Heroes! Ultimate Edition Role Playing Game
Published by Basic Action Games
Written by Chris Rutkowsky
Artwork by Danilo Moretti and Thom Chiaramonte
Edited by Michael Taylor, John Parker, Justin Peters, Amy Jine, and Michael Mikulis
137-page full-color PDF
$15 (PDF) or $25 (print version with free copy of PDF)
Comic books aren't getting any less popular at the theater, so don't
expect the RPG industry to stop coming up with new stuff either.
Basic Action Super Heroes! Ultimate Edition, or BASH, is
Basic Action Games' stab at this comic-based corner of the marketplace.
The Makings of a Hero
Characters are created using points and the Game Master (called the
Narrator) decides how many to use and in what proportions. For mystery
men stories of the pulp era, for example, the writers recommend 20
points, with 12 of those going to Stats and the rest to Powers. Cosmic
entities go up to 60+, but more than half of that goes to the Powers.
The three Stats are Brawn, Agility, and Mind, which are rated from 0 to
5 and cost two points per level. Most Powers range from 1 to 5 and cost
one point per level, but these may also require extra points to get
ranged effects and so on. Some abilities establish a difficulty through
level: Immobilize keeps victims trapped until overpowered through Brawn,
with 10 points of difficulty for every point of Power.
Skills are mental or physical, based on Mind or Agility. The Stat
determines the "slots" available – Agility 3 means there are three slots
for physical skills. That Stat is also the skill's multiplier (see
below), but assigning more slots increases it. Continuing this example,
Athletics would go from ×3 to ×4 if the player dedicated two
of his three Agility slots to Athletics instead of just one.
Most Heroes take a Weakness for added color (something that causes the
Hero extra Damage), but Heroes and Villains alike are required to take a
Mental Malfunction. This is usually whatever hang-up put them on a
crime-fighter's (or criminal's) path to begin with, and represents an
Achilles Heel their opponents can exploit. They may also take Advantages
and Disadvantages, but these are always paired – taking the one pays for
the other. The Hero may work with a Sidekick or use Gadgeteer to hammer
out new toys, but have an Arch-Enemy or uncontrollably turn into a
rampaging goliath to balance these out. If a PC costs too much or too
little, "debt" becomes Setbacks while unspent points become Hero Points.
The latter improve dice rolls or can be turned in for Hero Dice. These
dice are powerful, allowing characters a second wind or to assist allies
in dire straits. Setbacks are the opposite of Hero Points, and they
become Villain Dice. They work similarly for the bad guys' benefit, so
you get the "No one could survive that" trick for later in the campaign.
The Justice System
The basic mechanic is straightforward: Roll two six-sided dice and
multiply the result by the associated Stat. Doubles "explode", meaning
another die is thrown and, if it comes up the same as the first two,
roll again. Heroes can thereby rack up real numbers and do amazing
things. If the PC beats a difficulty when trying some feat (climbing a
wall, say) or the Narrator's opposed roll (if characters compete with
each other), he wins his task.
Since it's a superhero game, this is also how people beat the cheese out
of their enemies. In combat attacks are opposed by Defense rolls –
success means the attacker uses that same roll to determine the Damage
(this is one of those games that capitalize a lot of favored terms).
Multipliers may come from different Stats, like using Agility to hit but
Brawn to do Damage. His target rolls to "soak" this Damage, and the
difference is the number of Hits that get through. Super combatants get
100 Hits while Minions (everyone else in the game, good or evil) get
less. Superpowers may boost or replace these numbers. Armor, for
example, makes soak rolls more effective, but an energy beam attack
replaces the traditional thrown punch. The system uses comic-book
language to manage the flow of action. A superhero does something on his
"panel"; when everyone has taken their turn, that's a "page." It's a bit
cute, but it works and it's easy to understand.
Good vs. Evil
The graphic design is really appealing, with plenty of clean space, nice
type, and fun artwork. Anyone who has seen the character work on recent
comic-book cartoons like The Spectacular Spider-Man or Justice
League Unlimited will recognize the influences. Neither artist signs
his work, but the buyer is still the beneficiary of this fine display of
One of the book's big drawbacks is bad editing. Some games do a
less-than-stellar job of proofing that creeps up on the reader, but it
may disappear into the background. Here it's an absolute distraction.
Since this game incorporates new material and the first, arguably core,
portion of the book doesn't display this issue as badly, it looks like
the added pages went into this volume without sufficient checking.
Alas, it's not the only problem. The arrangement and language of some of
the character options is worse. The stated goal here is a quick and
playable super-system that doesn't bog down in details. The good news is
that it meets this requirement. The bad news is most of the headaches
are dealt with during the creation process. The system is versatile, to
be sure, and dispenses with needless cruft, but one cannot simply buy,
say, an energy beam. He has to purchase a Special Attack and add range.
Such systems are hardly unique, but it means page flipping (or, in the
case of the PDF, clicking and skimming). An ongoing example of
character creation would have helped, or perhaps a whole lot of page
references (and to be fair it already has its share of those).
Points are spent at creation to get that range, and those are added to
the "1 to 5" you spent on the Power itself. When reading the range
entry, though, it sounds as though points are "taken away" from the
Power to get the range... technically true, but confusing. Then in
the entry for Nullification (a Power-canceling Power), this odd reading
is reinforced by the statement "Your remaining levels in this power
(after Range, Area, and Enhancements are figured) are your
'Nullification Factor.'" Again, true but made to sound like there's
Smaller issues abound. Rather than a central equipment list in an
appendix, each campaign framework lists appropriate gear. Same with
NPCs, and, worse, character options like Advantages and Power
Limitations. The index only offers the main headings, not these orphaned
items, and in fact many campaigns aren't found there either.
There's an increasing and distracting use of italics near the end. The
Narrator's section jumps right in with no intro, and the organization
seems slapdash. This settles down once it proposes its campaign format
(tropes, recommended reading, etc.), but even then it starts with Modern
Age as a "sample setting" – and its Tropes entry says it's hard to
define. Some worlds get little attention, others get a whole lot.
The World Is Not Enough
Case in point: You've got to hand it to anyone who actually tries to
create a cosmic-scale system, but will this one work for most folks?
It's like a whole other sourcebook complete with its own set of Powers.
Scales change, not just points-wise but for the action. Squares for
miniatures become grids for planets. The World War II setting talks
about super serum; this one maintains moving planets depends on their
density. It elaborates on Pushing heavenly bodies and Scanning entire
galaxies, then claims the Stretching Power would be "unusual and
awkward." They manage time travel by making a billion-year trip easy
while establishing a trip of a few seconds at a roll of Beyond
Imagination (their terminology).
Debates are a natural part of any super system, and this one has its
share of oddities. Characters have Earth-shaking abilities but still
need the Security Clearance Advantage to justify grabbing energy weapons
(henchmen do this routinely). Clones created with Duplication all move
but only one may actually act. In Ghost Form one cannot interact with
the physical world; he may sink into the Earth but not float above it –
that's level 3. At level 4 you become astral, which doesn't explicitly
offer more abilities, it just endangers the physical body left behind.
Growing makes you a bigger, more formidable opponent – if it's always
on, it's called Size but the price doesn't change; call it Density
Increase and you're human-sized, lose the movement benefit, damage
floors, and pay more. And the cosmic alien intelligence template has
Freak as a potential disadvantage, damaging its social standing.
What does Basic Action Super Heroes! do well? Aside from its core
system, there are intuitively pleasant ideas like cooperative clue
finding. Even without a sample character to highlight the creation
system, there are plenty of examples to clear up important points. The
Shape-Shift rules are clever, concise but expansive. It's suggested each
Hero have one super, one personal, and one professional subplot for the
Narrator to use. Though another mention of this in the character
creation section would be good, it's the kind of
oh-so-obvious-after-the-fact insight that makes the game a formidable
entry into role-playing in general and superheroics specifically.
Even though it offers more options for combat action than just endless
attack vs. Defense rolls, the core system section recognizes that it
shouldn't stray far from its establishing idea of simple rolls that
cover a variety of situations. BASH is good, it works and it does
so on the levels the designers intended, but they should quit while
they're ahead. The writers should heed their own advice: less is more. A
company willing to offer that "more" is great, but adding a whole new
system more than midway through the book instead of melding it
seamlessly into existing material indicates the need for greater
organization. Move the rules for cosmic action and Powers to an
appropriate section, issue a wholly separate volume, or give all
settings in the campaign section the same loving attention. It seems odd
to chastise a book for its excesses, but for such an undemanding system
the reader has a lot of work to do to make use of its virtues.