by Nathan James
Godlike: Superhero Roleplaying in a World on Fire, 1936-1946
Published by Hobgoblynn Press
Created by Dennis Detwiller
Game Mechanics by Greg Stolze
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.