I’ve finished a first pass through both of Wearing the Cape, the Roleplaying Game and Barlow’s Guide & The B-Files and I believe I’ve finally found my Fate Superhero RPG.
I’m an old Champions player. It was my first RPG. I loved how I could make any character come to life in Champs. I still gravitate toward systems that support that level of player creativity. I’ve dabbled with Icons and Venture City, but both games were missing that range of expression.
Venture City is really good for experienced Fate players to dive right into the attached street-to-corporate superheroes setting, Superpunk. Powers are built on a Extra template. And characters are limited to two powers each. Which I found a little confusing until I realized that the player defines the powers. So Captain America has the powers Super Soldier and Adamantium Shield rather than, Super Fighting, Super Athletics, Super Strategy, etc. Just like Wearing the Cape, the power level can be scaled up by increasing the PC’s number of starting stunts. But I find that two power limit kind hangs over the creation process. And it lacks implicate support for flexible power pools, like magic or hypertech.
Icons is a proto-Fate game, written before Fate Core was published. So the dice, rules, and nomenclature are a little different. What Fate Core calls Stress, Icons calls Stamina. And the game uses d6’s instead of Fate Dice. Icons is a simple game and it’s really easy to make NPCs on the fly. You can also add limits to powers like in Champions. You can do that in Wearing the Cape, and indeed in any stunt in a Fate Core game, but the the point cost of limits in Icons are straight forward and don’t require bargaining with the GM. Icons has the Bronze Age of comics feel whereas Wearing the Cape feels contemporary, both in the way powers are built, but in the setting material. Icons is built around a random character generation system (which I really don’t care for) and the points based version feels like an afterthought.
In the setting material, all supers, called Breakthoughs, have a common origin. Since the divergence event (a worldwide blackout called…The Event) some people in dangerous situations have a ‘breakthough’ and manifest superpowers. Besides breakouts, you can play a robot from the future, or a hyper-intelligent, vampire dog from a parallel universe, no problem. The setting material is very broad and accommodates a wide range of character origins. But it’s missing the legacy of a Golden Age. You can set a ‘Golden Age’ in a parallel universe. But in the core setting, the Event happened in recent history.
Character creation in Wearing the Cape includes power templates called Types which cover the major archetypes of super heroes. Wanna be a Hulk? Ajax Type. Wanna be a Superman? Atlas-Type. Etc. I like how there’s a Paragon-Type for your Batman or Mr Terrific, and a Verne-Type for your Iron Man or Lex Luthor, so there’s less debate on who is a proper superhero. You don’t have to stick to these Types, you can create your own Type from whole cloth, ignore the Types altogether, or mix and match Yypes. The Metamorph Type in particular crosses over with the other Types quite well.
The magic/super science/Stunt pools provisions are great for flexible Dr Strange/Warlock types. And probably faster in play than Champions’ Power Pools.
The rules build on Fate Core, but only a little. Skills have been split into Attributes, Skills, and Resources (Reputation, Wealth, Contacts). High attributes grant bonuses to skills when appropriate, so a high strength grants a weapon rating to the Fight skill and an Armor Rating for defense. With characters with a high upper ceiling for their capabilities it makes sense. Other new rules include; if a PC makes a roll with no ‘+’s they get a Fate Point. And if a role fails by -3 or more that’s an Epic Fail and creates a Collateral Damage Aspect. There might be other divergences from baseline Fate Core, I’ve only read through the book once.
Barlow’s Guide & The B-Files is the big book of NPCs. It has a few more Types, and a lot more of the setting, and a very satisfying number of Breakouts. You can see the influences, but very few of these characters feel like direct analogs of properties published elsewhere. Compared to other NPC books for supers games this book is light on the villains. Probably because they’re pulled from the source material, Marion G. Harmon’s Wearing the Cape novels. There’s also few straight forward bad guys in contemporary fiction, and more every-villain-believes-they’re-a-hero types. Many of the NPCs are private contractors using their powers to do a job. It makes the supers feel like the live in their world instead of on top of it, a feeling often lacking in the comics.
Need More NPCs?As a Fate Core game, Wearing the Cape allows the GM to bring in a wider rage of NPCs from other setting books without complication. So throw Harry Dresden at your player’s super hero team, why not?
Even if you don’t use the setting, the expanded Extra rules for creating power types should be enough to get your Fate Core Super Hero game going. And the art is fantastic.