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Reviews - Godlike
by Nathan James

Godlike cover Godlike: Superhero Roleplaying in a World on Fire, 1936-1946
Published by Hobgoblynn Press
Created by Dennis Detwiller
Game Mechanics by Greg Stolze
Price: $39.95
354 pg. Hardback

Take that you Nazi!
To begin with, I have to admit I am a Godlike groupie.

Hmm... That doesn't sound quite right. Let's try that again.

At Gencon 2001, as I wandered through the isles packed with more games, videos, and dork paraphernalia than I've ever seen in one place, I quite literally stumbled onto the Pagan Publishing booth. I looked over the (sadly still unreleased) Reanimated supplement for The Hills Rise Wild, and came to a man with unnaturally spiky hair and glasses sitting behind the other end of the booth. I saw a photocopied version of a game I'd recently heard announced. It had sounded interesting. Gritty WWII superheroes. Interesting, but I thought immediately of Matt Forbeck's Brave New World which was also interesting and which I happened to dislike for the most part. I thumbed through the copy looking it over. Lots of rules. I always hated that. It's probably the main reason I stayed away from most superhero games. That and I have never been a huge fan of comics.

The man simply said politely that if I have any questions just let him know. Thank god. I hate the uncomfortable regret that results when confronted with someone trying to hype something that you just don't care about. I looked over the copy further. Then I saw the timeline. Wow. Then I asked the man when it was going to be released.

"Soon. But Greg Stolze," (Funny, I always thought it was pronounced Stolz. Not Stol-zee.) "is running demos of it later on today if you want to try it out." Wow again. Unknown Armies by both John Tynes and Greg Stolze is one of my favorite games ever. Where do I hand over my money was the next question.

I missed the demo that day, but I got in on one the next. And it had to have been one of the highlights of the entire con for me. Greg made me personally feel better about my GMing style and I saw what the system is able to do for being so simple to learn. I came away incredibly impressed. Oh yeah, and the guy at the booth was Dennis Detwiller, the originator of Godlike's concept and an extremely nice guy too. He actually remembered me (or pretended he did) the day after the missed demo. When he spoke to me about Godlike, I couldn't help but share his excitement about the game. He loved it, and it showed. So as you read, keep in mind that I already loved the game before buying it. My money was as good as spent that day in August. So now that the fanboy stuff is out of the way...

Godlike is a game that posits the existence of paranormals, or "Talents" during WWII. The first known Talent, nicknamed "Der Flieger," inaugurated the 1936 Olympics, stunning the world. He was the essence of the Nazi Aryan. Blond hair with blue eyes, and a supreme belief in his own superiority. In fact, that's what made him fly: he believed in his Fuhrer's ideals so deeply that one day he simply flew. Soon after, other Talents began appearing. In the game, all Talent abilities stem from this assumption. They believe in themselves, so the powers work. No rhyme or reason to it, ordinary people simply gain unnatural powers. At first there was one, at the end of the war there were over a quarter of a million Talents.

The book itself runs 354 pages including the character sheet. The binding is sturdy, though the paper itself runs along the flimsy side. When I think about how much thicker paper would have cost, $39.95 for over 354 pages in a hardbound book does not seem like very much at all. The cover is extremely well done with the art by Detwiller conveying exactly what you're getting inside. The art and doctored photographs on the interior also convey the overall feel of the background. This is the WWII we already know... almost.

The layout is simple without leaving too much blank space in the margins. Dense is a good word to describe the overall package. Each page is filled with text to the point where adding any more would have made the size of the text illegible. However a number of page XX references slipped through the editing and sometimes annoy when you really would like to know where the relevant information is, but only have XX to go by. Overall though, it feels like you're getting your money's worth.

WW 2 a la Charles Fort
The background information is excellent, and there's over 250 pages of it. A timeline covers from June 8th, 1936 to January 1st, 1946. This goes over every major (and many minor) event of the war, from the Talents in North Africa to the effects of the Jewish Talents ("Nephilim") on Hitler's Final Solution.

The default Godlike setting ends the war with pretty much the same outcome as in our history. The book then actively discusses the effects of the Talents on the war, and comes to the conclusion that while the Talents can change the world, they can not change history. This is due in part to the fact that any Talent can recognize and attempt to cancel the powers of another Talent. It's great when one side has men who can fly and throw tanks. But when both sides have men and women with these abilities and are able to counter the other, the effect isn't quite as strong. Despite the book's discussion and subsequent conclusions on Talents, careful consideration of the timeline revealed how the Talents shaped not so much the actual outcome of the war, but what was to come afterwards. For example, a Talent appears in India that alters the politics of that region to a state unrecognizable to those of today.

The Talent specific information in the timeline is kept apart from the actual historical events. However, the world that Dennis Detwiller has created is so plausible that it felt like I was reading a chronicle of actual events. One of my favorite sections is a quote within a text box that describes Patton's reaction to Talents after seeing the wreckage strewn about by a German Talent: "Damn. I'd like to get me a few of those."

There is one thing the timeline does not cover which seems unforgivable to me. There's an absence of anything covering the Nuremberg Trials. It seems a glaring hole in an otherwise excellent book. Were Talents tried alongside the Nazi War Criminals? Were Himmler and Goering still able to commit suicide with huge numbers of Allied Talents in and around Germany involved with the manhunt? I realize that it's not much of a stretch for a GM to add these details themselves, but it still seems like it should be there.

The actual system of Godlike uses a dice pool mechanic that's rather ingenious. You are aiming to get as many matches as you can. In plain terms, a match is a success. The number of dice that match is the "width" of the roll, while the number rolled would be the "height." Say my dice pool to fire my rifle is a 4 (about human average), giving me four dice to roll. I roll a 5, 5, 5, and 7. That would be a 3x5. My roll has a width of 3 and a height of 5, not bad at all. Now the ingenious part of it is that's all you need to roll in a combat. Simply declare your action and roll at the same time as everyone else. That one role decides hit location, initiative, and damage. In a combat round the width of a roll would determine how quickly you performed an action, while the height of the roll shows how well it was done and the hit location. So while the person being shot at by me rolled a 2x10 on his rifle and is technically better than my 3 fives, my 3x5 action is performed faster, so I get my shot off first. The hit location is determined by the numbers rolled themselves. My 3x5 hit his right arm. Not bad, could put him out of action. Hopefully it will, because that 2x10 was a shot to the head.

The default system is extremely gritty; if you get shot and have no Talent or other ability that will protect you, you will die. A prepared sniper waiting in ambush is a dangerous thing to the average Talent. However, there are a number of options given to the GM if they want a more "cinematic" game that makes it more forgiving to the characters.

Selling Out to the Man
Also included are open-source d20 rules written by Mike Mearls. This is interesting because the game does not bear a d20 logo on it at all. Godlike is the first game to use the Open Gaming License in this manner (kudos to Hobgoblynn Press), though the upcoming Everquest RPG by White Wolf will do the same. The 29 page d20 rules appear solid and actually do work well. To be honest though, I'll be using them as more of a lure to pull in my diehard d20 players to Godlike than actually using them.

The aforementioned d10 dice pool is the system at its base. Of course, the powers of the Talents twist it on its head (in a good way). For Talents two new types of dice are introduced: "Hard" dice and "Wiggle" dice. A Hard die is a part of a character's dice pool, except that it is always set as a 10. A Wiggle die is a die that can set to any number after the rest of your pool is rolled. Yes, after. The powers themselves are bought during character creation as either Regular, Hard, or Wiggle die.

You can spend your initial Will points either on Hyperstats, Hyperskills, or Miracles. Hyperstats and Hyperskills are exactly what they sound like: Stats and Skills taken to superhuman levels. Normally the human limit is 5 in a Stat or Skill. Surprise, surprise, Hyperstats and Hyperskills transcend that limit. Want the ultimate sniper? Buy a couple of Hard dice and some extra Regular dice, and you'll never miss. Want to throw tanks? Just buy a bunch of dice in Hyperbody. Miracles consist of everything else. And while the only immutable rule in the game is that you can never roll more than 10 dice, additional dice past the 10th do scale up the effects of that power.

From Flight and Heavy Armor to Teleportation and Goldberg Science (the ability to create wondrous machinery that works for you, but no one else), most everything is listed in the book. And if it isn't, you can build the power yourself with the power building rules. One thing to remember: a Talent's power is based on Will. Should a character run out of Will, their power automatically fails. Also, many times when opposing Talents come into conflict they can attempt to cancel the power (whatever that power is) of their opponent by spending a point of Will. This in turn can be countered by spending a point of Will to ensure theirs continues to function. This continues until either one of the Talents gives up, or one runs out of Willpower. This simple mechanic enforces one of the premises of the game: you can bend reality, as long as you believe you can.

The Will system is not set in stone, though. If you want a "Four Color" game instead of Godlike's gritty and deadly default, drop the Will contests and increase the amount of points in character creations. It's that easy.

Not all is well in Nazi-bashing Land
Despite the game's depth, it does have its flaws. The main one being, well, its depth. The chapter on character creation for example explains how to create a normal human. To build that character's Talent you have to look in the next chapter altogether. It only mentions this in a couple of places in the four page chapter, and while it makes sense to have the detailed and sometimes amazing Talent abilities in their own chapter, I still found myself looking for the basics in the chapter on Character Creation (habit, I suppose). While it did make me itch to run a game of Godlike, at the same time it took me a couple of read throughs to pin down what the game could do. The system itself is not difficult (if it were, I'd have avoided it like the plague). It's simply that there are so many options, it's easy to be left wondering what to do next. This is most apparent in the chapter on the Talent powers and Talent creation.

It must be mine!
That said, I have not found a game that has drawn me in such as Godlike has. With 150 pages of background, a system that is easy to use and has the ability to scale up or down the power levels of the characters, I am most definitely hooked on Godlike. Still, it might not be for everyone. Authors Detwiller and Stolze created a game that they wanted. Many might not like the low powered deadliness of the default system or might feel they sold out by including d20 rules. But regardless, Godlike is still worth a look at the very least. It's a good game that's already gotten my group (including said d20 fanatics) excited about superheroes for the first time ever. It's not often that a game like this comes around. At 354 pages for $39.95 (that's a third more than two comparatively priced 128 pg. splatbooks) how can you not drool on yourself and mindlessly hand over your money?

Don't answer that.


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