|"They're coming to get you Lois. . ."|
I'm Stacy, and I am a tabletop RPG addict.
You'd think that without access to a regular gaming group and the time to even engage in roleplaying games I'd wise up and save my hard-earned dollars for something a bit more sensible, like socks or regular tire rotation. But no. Each week invariably finds me at my friendly local games store, browsing through the aisles for a setting to catch my eye and part me from aforementioned cash like Jack from the family cow.
Those who know me, either from long friendship or from my work on The Fanboy Power Hour (/shameless plug), may have detected a more than partial bias to superhero comics, particularly those of the Silver Age variety. Four-Color superhero worlds with talking monkeys, jetpacks, and diabolical mad scientists out to Take Over The World. . .I eat that sort of thing up like a big ol' bowl of Frosted Flakes on a Saturday morning. But for all that, there is this twisted little part of me that loves to see those heroic archetypes get pulled through the proverbial ringer. Books like IRREDEEMABLE, LEAVING MEGAOPOLIS, THE MIGHTY, and MARVEL ZOMBIES which take those shining symbols of idealism and hope and warp them almost beyond recognition.
Why yes, I feel fine. Why do you ask?
Which brings us to ROTTED CAPES, the Post-Apocalyptic Superhero Game of Zombie Survival Horror from Paradigm Concepts.
The scenario is simple enough: a zombie apocalypse takes place on a world that just so happens to be home to a variety of superhuman heroes and villains. Your character is one of the few superhumans remaining in the aftermath of Z-Day, when something happened that changed the world into a nightmare of walking undead horror. Even worse than the standard undead hordes, a number of superheroes and villains were infected by the virus and became z'ed themselves. Intelligent and amoral and in complete possession of their powers, they're stalking you as the undead hordes stalk the people under your protection. Can you keep the enclave of humanity you're working to support safe from the undead, or will you fall in battle and become the horror stalking them in the night? Will you hold on to your ideals or slowly sink into the morass of questionable ethics the world has become? This is the world of ROTTED CAPES.
Superheroes and Horror can make for a tough balancing act. One the one hand Horror's mission objective is to scare you, to illustrate the world as a stalking ground of terrors and to prove to us that humanity is ultimately insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Superheroes allow us escapism and the hope that we can be better and that we can help each other make the world a better place. From a storytelling perspective tilting the balance too far in either direction will cause one of the elements to become insignifcant. Make things too grim and your players will lose hope, believing they can't make a difference in the face of unrelenting evil. Make things too optimistic and you lose the higher stakes feel that a zombie apocalypse can provide. One of the ways the game works to balance the issue is to ensure your characters are 'b-list' superheroes. Simply put, you're not Superman or The Mighty Thor. You're more like Black Lightning or the Guardian. You have powers and abilities that put you a cut above most people, but you're not invincible. No, most of those 'A-list' heroes either were killed in the initial conflict or were infected and become Super Zombies. They will never stop hunting you, have all the powers they had in life, and they're completely amoral. Imagine a serial killer with Superman's power set. Sweet dreams. . .
System wise the game utilize a dice set of four, six, eight, ten and 12-sided dice. You will need two ten-sided dice (2d10) to act as your Action Dice. The mechanic is simple: Roll your Action Dice, then an attribute die (Strength, Vitality, etc). Add the results of the roll, then modifiers for powers, skills, advantages, and the like and compare the results to a Target Number set by the Editor-in-Chief (the Game Master). If you beat the target number, you achieve your goal. The system allows for a number of superhuman abilities, talents, and skill sets. You can build just about any superhero from Batman to Luke Cage, and even the big guns if your EiC is feeling generous and wants a higher powered game.
Artistically the imagery in the game ranges from good to great, with a few striking images such as the book's cover that really help set the game's equal parts horrific and heroic tone. The In-Game setting of Paradigm City is well-constructed and the Non-Player Characters provided as examples for character creation and potential supporting cast/player characters or even antagonists make for interesting reading material. The setting is an intriguing one and hands a lot of guns on the wall for the EiC to build upon. The actual nature of Z-Day is kept deliberately vague for a future revelation, but some potential causes are discussed and explored if the Editor wants to provide an explanation out of the gate.
ROTTED CAPES makes for a lot of fun but I'd be remiss if I didn't point out a few flaws here and there that took me out of the game a little. The power sets break down into three primary modes: Super-Human (Inherent physical powers), Skill Hero (trained heroes like Batman), or Tech Hero (mad scientist/Iron Man types). This seemingly limits the game for anyone who'd like to create a character a bit outside of these three paths. Magic-based heroes for example are possible, but in comparison to other superhero systems (Green Ronin's MUTANTS & MASTERMINDS for example) the game can feel a little limited. But again, this is a nitpick and far from a deal-breaker.
Overall ROTTED CAPES has an intriguing premise and is a fun-looking system that looks like it'd be a blast to play. If you're looking to spice up the gaming table with a supers campaign that's off the beaten track or want to give your horror heroes a decidedly potent edge against the forces of the undead this system has plenty of toys in the box that'd make for hours of fun gameplay. Thus far the core rulebook and a single adventure sourcebook entitled MIND GAMES are the sole products for the RC line, but I'm hopeful Paradigm will produce more. Despite the minor flaws here and there the game overall is a strong beginning to a setting I'd love to see explored in further detail. Consider it recommended.