This Gen Con was a year for superheroes. Writer Jim Zub and writer/artist Gene Ha were in attendance, sharing their secrets with the cape-and-tights cognoscenti. Any room without a Deadpool or a Harley Quinn was in danger of being condemned. In the gaming halls, Batman skulked and grimaced his way between the dice towers. Other games were played with less recognizable superheroes: Legacy, Tachyon, Captain Cosmic. Greater Than Games has made its name on its Sentinels comics games, including a cooperative card game, a tactical skirmish game, and a card game for mobile devices.

I spoke with Christopher Badell, game design director for Greater Than Games. Christopher's the writer of Greater Than Games' breakout cooperative superhero card game, Sentinels of the Multiverse. Following a licensing deal with the scribes behind Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, he's also in charge of the forthcoming Sentinels of the Multiverse tabletop roleplaying game.

Zach Welhouse: Information on the Sentinels of the Multiverse RPG has been pretty tight up until this show. What can you say about the game?
Christopher Badell: The game has been in development for a little over a year. The design team on it is fantastic! It's Cam Banks, Dave Chalker, and Philippe Ménard. I've been helping out with lore stuff, but the game design is all them. They have come up with a storytelling system that focuses on the action rather than as much of the crunch. The statistical way things work and the dice pools make a lot of sense--the mechanics flow very well, but you're going to spend more time describing the things you do and talking about the action and the choices you make than you are figuring out what your plusses and minuses are. It's very fast-paced, high-action, and a lot of fun.

Each of the designers and I GM the game differently, which is great. Some of us focus more on the action, some of us focus more on the drama and the interpersonal. The game does all of them really well; it just comes down to GM preference, which is great. It's what a game should be doing.

The game is based on making dice pools to figure out what your character does. It's always a pool of three dice coming from your powers, like Super Strength or Flying--

ZW: Are those powers taken from a general list?
CB: For this show we have the pre-generated characters of the Freedom Five and Unity. When the RPG comes out, it will have full character creation. When you create your character, you'll assign their powers, their qualities, their kickers, principles — things like that. You can pull those from lists, but you can also generate your own based on various things in the game.

So the dice pool comes from your power, your quality — things like Family Man or Loner or Scientist. They're the things that are true about you, but aren't a superpower.

Your third die is the zone die. We call this system the GYRO system because everything goes through a series of zones: Green, Yellow, Red, Out — GYRO. If you're in the green zone, it's like, "Aw, I'm at full health, nothing's stressing me out, I'm feeling good." Yellow zone means, "Maybe I took a bunch of damage. Maybe I've been under psychic assault." Red zone, things are awful. I'm on my last legs. Out means you're out, but even then you're not completely out of the game. You're incapacitated in some way, and just like in Sentinels of the Multiverse, you can help out your allies. You can take some minute action and stay in the scene.

Each character will have a die for each of those zones. Let's say you have a character like Legacy, I believe the Green zone is d8, the Yellow zone is d8, and Red zone is a d10. If I want to punch through a wall and have everyone follow me through in a charge, I use my power of Strength (d10), my quality of Leadership (d8), and I'm in the Green zone (d8). I roll my three dice and the middle one I get is the one I take.

Then you have kickers that say things like, "When Legacy is leading his allies with Leadership, he can use his highest die." Kickers are what makes a character special. Another example: "I make this big attack and add the two lowest dice together, but I take the highest die in Stress." I'm really overdoing this attack!

The game really works a lot on success with a cost. If you roll really high to succeed at a thing, great! If you roll really low, you'll utterly fail. But if you roll medium-low, you will succeeed at a major cost or a minor cost. This is where the storytelling gets a lot of fun between the players and the GM. Let's say there's a bunch of fire and Absolute Zero wants to use his cold powers to extinguish all that fire. He rolls and succeeds with a minor cost. The GM will say," You succeed, but in the course of doing so there are some innocent bystanders nearby who're hit with your power. They're frozen in place now." Absolute Zero can say, "Yes, I like that outcome," or "No, I'm willing to fail."

ZW: It's like failing forward or saying, "Yes, but..." or "No, but..."
CB: Absolutely! It's kind of like Apocalypse World or that sort of thing. But there's also a third thing we're doing that I've never seen before. Each player has a list of costs on their character sheet that are specific to the character. They're things like Absolute Zero's minor cost is that one of his coolant tubes is gummed up and he can't use it anymore, or his major cost is his suit is overheating and he has to go into recharge mode to avoid killing himself. Legacy's major cost might be a good friend or an innocent bystander is in danger and he's put them in danger by his actions.

When the GM says, "Hey, you succeed with this minor cost," the player can say yes or no, or they can substitute one of the costs from their character sheet. In that way, every player in the game is actually shaping the story. The GM is telling the overarching story, but the players are saying, "This thing changes, these things change, now it's going in this direction." Everyone has a hand in telling the comic book story.

ZW: That answers my follow-up question pretty well. There are a lot of superhero games out there, and it sounds like there's some inspiration from Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.
CB: Absolutely. It's the same team as the Marvel RPG. They made the Marvel RPG, but then publisher lost the license because Marvel was pulling all their licenses from everything. We were talking about it one day a long time ago and Cam says, "I would love to do a Sentinels of the Multiverse RPG because Marvel said 'You can't do new character creation, you have to use our characters, and there are certain things those characters can and cannot do.'" When we were all working on this together, they would come to me and say, "We want to take it in this direction and do this thing!" or "Can so-and-so do such-and-such?" My answers are usually, "Yes, absolutely!"

It's great because it's a licensed product, but it's my licensed product so I can do whatever I want with it. That open-endedness allows us to do whatever we want and make it the best it can be. One of the things I said early on was that we had to have character creation.

I want you to be able to play in a campaign where you can be Legacy, I'm going to be the Wraith, and these other two people are going to be characters they made up themselves, we're all fighting together alongside each other, and it's awesome.

I also want GMs to be able to make their own villains. You should be playing in the Sentinels comics world, but you also have the ability to shape that world as you see fit.

ZW: Does this focus on the Sentinels characters and situations mean the game is also serving as the lore bible of the Sentinels universe?
CB: That is certainly a good way to look at it. The core RPG book is going to have so much stuff that answers questions like, "Wait! This was a little ambiguous. What happened here? Who fought who?" There is essentially going to be a lore bible in the core book for the Sentinels RPG.

ZW: During your playtesting, have you focused on a specific power level for the heroes?
CB: Everyone who's playing should feel like a superhero. I mentioned principles earlier. Every character has a couple of principles that tell you who that character is. For example, Legacy has the Principle of the Martyr. That means whenever there's an innocent bystander in danger, you can, for free, always interpose yourself between that innocent bystander and the danger. If Legacy sees someone in danger and there's a falling building, boom! He doesn't have to roll, he doesn't have to make a check, he can just save that person.

The Wraith has the Principle of Stealth. If her player says, "I sneak into that building," the GM says, "Well, yes, of course you do. You're the Wraith. You sneak into that building." The characters should feel like superheroes. Superheroes don't fail to do the thing they're best at unless there's something major stopping them like a villainous plot of some sort. In general, when a superhero is doing something they succeed.

When a superhero hits a minion and the minion defends, they still take damage. If they don't defend, they're knocked out entirely. When you're a minion, the best case scenario is you didn't die outright. Everything you do makes you feel like a superhero. That's really important to us.

ZW: Thank you! That answers most of my questions about the Sentinels RPG. How about the Sentinels of the Multiverse mobile card game? It's been a productive year for the game and there have been several expansions released. What's coming up next?
CB: CB: Multiplayer! We're revealing at this show the multiplayer version of the Sentinels of the Multiverse video game. It's cross-platform multiplayer so people can play together between Steam, iPad, Android. No big deal. Handelabra has been putting out expansions about once every three months, so we just had Infernal Relics come out and they're already working on Shattered Timelines.

I'm the designer and writer of the Sentinels of the Multiverse stuff, and the programmers have been beating down my door about certain rules. Things like, "This doesn't work!" I'm like, "It works fine on the table." (Laughs.) "This is so hard to program into a video game!" Well, that's your problem. (Laughs.) That's why I don't make video games!

They're doing a great job with it! They're saying, "We'll make it work," and they do. We're excited that multiplayer is coming out so people can play together across the world, but we also have all sorts of exciting things coming in the new expansions. They're getting the mini-expansions out, Shattered Timelines, and then Wrath of the Cosmos will be shortly behind that.

On the card game side of things, we're coming toward the final expansion for Sentinels of the Multiverse sometime in the next... year plus?

ZW: The Galactus expansion?
CB: Ahhh... (Laughs.) The something-something expansion!

With that final expansion for Sentinels of the Multiverse, the goal is to simultaneously launch the expansion for the card game and the video game. That's a challenge that Handelabra has taken up, and we'll see if it works!

ZW: I look forward to hearing more about that. Thank you very much!
CB: Thank you!

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