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Pen and Paper: Roleplaying Superheroes

Updated on August 18, 2012
My go-to source for superheroes!
My go-to source for superheroes!

Like any other hobby, roleplaying can take many forms. When it comes to genres, fantasy reigns supreme on the tabletop. Dungeons and Dragons, the grandfather of all roleplaying games, brought elves and dwarves into gaming in such a way that they seem to define the gaming experience.

But, what if I want to play a superhero?

While the fantasy genre may be the one that started it all, it isn’t the only choice out there. Vampires, military, science fiction, samurai, westerns and superheroes are all out there, waiting to be played. Since I love superheroes and comic books, you can bet that I enjoy playing them. In fact, I tend to have more fun playing a superhero than I do a dwarf. And I love playing a dwarf.

There’s plenty of superhero rules available. Mutants and Masterminds, Champions, and Marvel Superheroes are just a few options. I’ve tried a few of them and they’re all fun, in unique ways, but the closest I ever came to feeling like I was getting the most out of my game was Marvel Superheroes.

That is, until I met Savage Worlds. You see, Savage Worlds does every genre. All those I listed above, it can handle and excel at, as long as you know how to work the system. The only thing it doesn’t do well is superheroes.

Then, like sweet mana from Heaven, Necessary Evil came into the world. While others might call it a simple expansion of the core rules, Necessary Evil changes the way I play superheroes. It works right alongside the main book which allows it to be just as fast and furious as I could want.


The first real change comes in the form of new Hindrances. These additions are to help you build a superhero with more character. While the core rules have plenty of Hindrances, these are more specific to the genre. All the old ones still work; if you love taking “Outsider” and “Overconfident”, don’t worry. The dozen new ones include Hindrances like “Alien Form” so you can be a true outsider, “Allergy” has you weak to your own form of kryptonite, and characters playing villains can take “Gloater” and put Dr. Doom to shame with their monologing. I once took “Servitor” for a character I named Count Rockula, his major hindrance was that he was the servant of rock and roll. One of my favorite Hindrances is “Terminally Ill”. While it might not seem worth the trouble, from a roleplaying point-of-view, it allows you play a character who knows that the time he has is precious, while allowing for a possible noble death if the cards are right.

New ways to define your character are great, but it’s how a game does superpowers that makes me want to play. If all you ever use Necessary Evil for is a power manual, then you’ve spent your money wisely. The powers in this book work like the powers in the core rules, only they’re more powerful and have tons of modifiers. I’ve yet to think of a superhero I can’t build with this book. Sure, if I wanted a character as powerful as Thanos or the Silver Surfer, it might not work out so well, but anything Avengers of Justice League level works.

With a campaign that's worth a look!
With a campaign that's worth a look!

You have your “Force Control” if you’re looking to be a Green Lantern, plenty of cheap powers to form a super tracker, and “Matter Control” lets you move the matter of choice. You can build a super speedster or a psychic. You can buy a super base and car and be an undead defender of the night. One of my favorite characters was a mutant who could duplicate himself. While that might not seem like much, every duplicate had the same power as the original and I had “Explode”. In battle, my hero was resupplying boy-bomb. If you really know the system, you can terrorize your game master and play a “Super Sorcerer” which gives you access to every power at a cost. For those who know the rules inside and out, this power can make you a formidable hero.

Modifiers make this system what it is. There are standard powers, such as “Attack, Melee” and “Attack, Ranged” that work exactly as you think, but the modifiers help you define the power. Does your punch burn with the flame of a thousand suns? Well, that’s an “Elemental Trick”. Do you shoot an attack that covers a city block? Take “Area Effect”. All other powers come with them, allowing you to adjust how they work, what they do, and what they cost.

I’m not much for pre-made campaigns, but Necessary Evil comes with a story I wouldn’t mind playing through someday. The concept involves an alien invasion that takes out all superheroes. The only ones left to defend Earth from these invaders are the super villains of the world. It’s an interesting concept and allows the players to let their chaotic side out for a change. I’ve read through the whole adventure and it seems like it stays unique enough to carry players through. I hope to play or run it someday, but you never know what gamers want. If you’re looking for a unique campaign, try it out and let me know what you think.

Whether you’re looking for a campaign to run some evildoers through or you just want a classic four color superhero game, Necessary Evil is the place to look. It gives the most freedom in character creation out of the games I’ve played and lets you set your limits on how powerful you can get. I’ve ran many superhero games with this system and it always works out well. Combat is fun and can send heroes through buildings, the concept of rolls “exploding” and getting raises allows for moments of true super feats, and you can keep the world non-lethal as long as you would like. All in all, the system is pretty super.


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    • Eric Mikols profile image

      Eric Mikols 5 years ago from New England

      The Necessary Evil campaign would be great with Marvel/DC characters, nice call.

      The problem you have with the power set is the same complaint I've heard before from others. I have an uncle who was upset he could never build a character of the same level as say, The Silver Surfer. Now option for the Power Cosmic in NE.

      Thanks for commenting!

    • Chimerical Chain profile image

      Steve Rubino 5 years ago from Milton, Vermont

      The Plot Point campaign in Necessary Evil is a blast to actually play through. I altered the setting, placing it in an universe loaded with Marvel and DC characters mostly because my players were all serious fans of those comics. Plus: I just wanted an excuse to use Dr. Doom as a major NPC, and he easily replaced Dr. Destruction (practically the same person anyway). Savage Worlds is such a broad, yet easy, rules system that it's become our go-to game now; we've played three different campaigns with our current, a Savage version of Battlestar Galactica ( classic series! ) working fantastically.

      The one problem I do have with Necessary Evil, and the way Savage Worlds handles super powers, is that while it does a great job of enabling you to represent a large amount of powers, it's not so great at allowing you to play truly powerful characters. Part of that is how things scale in the system: maximum character Strength, for example, is scaled way lower than in Marvel Super Heroes for example. It makes playing, or representing as NPCs, the truly powerful characters really tough.

      That aside, it really is a great system. Definitely my current favorite for super heroes, though there's still a place in my heart for Classic Marvel!

    • Eric Mikols profile image

      Eric Mikols 5 years ago from New England

      I used to love the comics, I'll have to find a copy of Mouse Guard somewhere.

    • William157 profile image

      William157 5 years ago from Southern California

      I always wondered how I'd do a Savage superhero setting with the core book. Necessary Evil and the Superhero Companion book seem to make this kind of game a breeze.

      Sadly, I don't have many chances to play RPGs these days, but if I did I'd like to give Mouse Guard a try. My group prefers story-heavy games to combat-heavy ones, and MG would be a good fit. If you get a hold of it, I'd love to see your thoughts on it from the perspective of a Savage.