Sunday, February 17, 2019

Sentinel Comics RPG - First Impression from the Starter Kit

Hey, look at that. A new blog post. But I gamed about something I wanted to talk about, so here we are.

DISCLAIMER: While this isn't technically a review, please note that I have included a link to the Starter Kit in my review, and purchases of the Starter Kit are likely to provide me with a percentage of the sale in store credit at RPGNow.

Started the Starter Kit tonight (6 adventures, of which we played 2).

Running for three players, who took the following:

Absolute Zero - Kind of a heroic Mr. Freeze.

Legacy - A Superman/Captain America hybrid

Unity - A geek girl who slaps together robots super fast

We played through two of the 6 adventures, which are meant to be strung together into a mini campaign.  I own all the Sentinels of the Multiverse sets, but I don't listen to the podcasts or anything, so I knew most of the necessary backstory, but not all of it. My players were complete neophytes, but they were able to use the info on the character booklets to get the hang of their characters.

Gameplay is kind of a Fate Core/Marvel Heroic hybrid. Everything you do is one of the following actions: Overcome, Attack, Defend, Boost/Hinder. You roll dice by making a dice pool by picking a Power, a Quality and your Status die (determined by either your remaining HP or the status of the Environment, on a scale of Green/Yellow/Red. In most basic actions, you take the Mid die of the three you roll as your effect, but each hero has abilities that let them break those rules, whether it's getting to use the Max die, attacking multiple enemies with the Min die, or adding two dice together, and other effects.

Generally, the idea is that the more damage you take (or the more desperate the situation gets), the stronger your attacks get. This worked great in play in our first combat, as our heroes were fighting creepy spider-robots, and Legacy had sustained just enough damage to hit Yellow, so he used an attack that let him hit multiple foes (wiping the field). Felt heroic.

Enemies come in three flavors: Minions - they are represented with a die type. When you hit them, they roll that die and if they get lower than your damage roll, they're dead. Otherwise, they drop in die type. Lieutenants - Also represented with a die type, but successful hits only lower their die type by 1. They stay in it until they are reduced to nothing. Finally, Villains have nearly the same stat block as heroes and function mostly the same way.

In our two adventures last night, we only used Minions and Lieutenants. We'll encounter Villains soon enough.

Key Things:

- It's a very loose system. That is, no hard tracking of space/distance, that kind of thing. We just kind of went with common sense. I have one player who usually need a battle map, but he did fine here. I was comfortable with it, though.

- (Most) Missions are on timers. That is, there is a track with X amount of Green slots, X amount of Yellow slots, X amount of Red slots that tick down as you play. When the mission moves from Green to Yellow, everyone gets access to their Yellow abilities, regardless of Health. Same when it moves to Red (which means everything is unlocked). I really like the timer. It puts a sense of urgency on things, but even one of the adventures I ran had an Overcome action in it that heroes could take to essentially roll back the clock, meaning there's always ways for someone to contribute. That's pretty cool.

- The power curve on the heroes is kind of flat, and not in a bad way. Legacy is way beyond Absolute Zero and Unity by most measures, but he never dominated the field when we played. The first mission with the Spider-Bots would have failed without Unity using her Tech powers to figure out how to stop the Spiders, of which there were too many to just smash. In two occasions, Absolute Zero blanketed the area in a cold field that applied a whopping -4 modifier to all his enemies' next rolls, essentially giving the heroes a free turn. Legacy can't do much damage at the start, but as the situation grows more dire, he becomes an absolute tank who can wreck bad guys and jump in front of his friends to protect them from damage. And even if you get knocked out, you have an "Out" action specific to your character that lets them still help their friends in some way (this was lifted directly from the card game). One of the better "mixing Hawkeye with Hulk" systems I've seen, especially when missions have more going on than just "punch this bad guy" (and our first mission was FULL of "things going on").

- Initiative is what they have termed "Popcorn Initiative". This means that you just decide who goes first, based off the situation, and they hand the initiative off to whoever they choose, on either side. I was okay with this, but my players absolutely HATED it. They are much more comfortable with rolling dice or drawing cards and knowing up front what the entire initiative order is going to be.

- Dice don't explode, and there are not Critical Hits or Critical Failures. This was another HUGE sticking point for my players. We love the completely balls out randomness of Savage Worlds die rolls. The plus side to this is there's no One Hit Kills on boss fights. The downside to this is, a MASSIVE hit only knocks a Lieutenant down one die type and doesn't knock them out of the fight (this was most notable when fighting a d12 Lieutenant in the second took a ton of effort to finally knock it to a d10, and it crumbled under the onslaught of attacks after that, but they felt a bit cheated that the massive effort was only rewarded with knocking it down one die type).

- Every die roll for the heroes is combining a Power, a Quality and their Status die (which is determined by the HP or Environment). So this works great sometimes...and other times we were left reaching, trying to figure out which Power or Quality fit a situation, and basically going "screw it" and picking something that was kind of close. Hardly a deal breaker for us, but definitely slowed us down a few times. (Absolute Zero had it easy most of the time, but Legacy struggled a bit with his Qualities fitting his situation sometimes).
- Teamwork moves (like Fastball Specials) felt a bit hollow. We get how they work (one play Boosts an ally, then gives them initiative to attack), but it just didn't "gel" with my  players. I don't get that, exactly, because it feels easier to plan out to me than the same would when you know one person is going first in the initiative and their ally is going fifth, but it might also just be the learning curve of a new system.
- I'm curious to see full character creation rules, as there is a LOT of interconnected stuff on these sheets (as a guy who plays the card game, the three heroes my players used felt a LOT like their counterparts in the card game), and I have no idea how the character creation is going to make all of that work coherently.
- Bad guys, on the other hand, seem like they will be easy as Hell to hack into the game. Especially Minions and Lieutenants.
- Rules are very clear - you do not roll dice unless there is consequences. Period.

- Combat was unusual in that you don't miss. If someone takes a Defend action, it gives them a defense that reduces damage (narrate it however it makes Absolute Zero is dodging and rolling to avoid being shot, and gets 4 pts of Defense, and the Spider Robot shoots him for 5, it drops to 1 and he was just slightly grazed)...but otherwise, you roll an attack and it hits, and the person hit either takes damage or rolls a damage save (for Minions and Lieutenants). I had no issue with this, and my players were fine with it after a bit, once they got used to the idea.

- There are exceptions to the rules, like taking a Minor Twist in order to roll Defend out of turn (there are a list of basic Minor and Major Twists for the GM to use, as well as each Environment having a list of Twists based on the color of the tracker). You can similarly invoke Risky Actions to take a Minor Twist and change up your actions (like hitting more than one enemy with an attack meant for one, creating a persistent Boost instead of a one-use Boost, or your Attack using the Max die instead of the Mid die). You can also use "Collections" to recall back to your past to change a die to whatever side you want, introduce an element to the setting, that sort of thing. This is a "one use per session" thing.

Ultimately, it felt easier for me to understand than either Fate Core or Marvel Heroic (and that DNA was intentional in this game). I liked a LOT more than I disliked. My players are down for seeing the rest of the scenario through (four more adventures...probably 1-2 more sessions). I felt like it occupied a great space between narrative and crunchy...but I have a feeling I'm going to be in the minority here and the hardcore crunchy folks are going to wince at the loose Powers and Qualities, and the hardcore narrative folks are going to wince at the sheer number of Abilities each hero has in their arsenal.

There is a Kickstarter going on now, for those interested. I'm probably waiting for retail, because I'm broke right now. It happens.


  1. Great post, Tommy! I've been curious about this game. I tried to talk the creators into a Q&A, but they said that they were too busy. Ah, well...

    1. Thanks! That sucks that they didn't have time. They have a fun game here, in my opinion.

  2. Thanks for sharing your impressions!