These days, it feels like superheroes are everywhere. Comic books are easier than ever to track down online. Graphic novels are gaining acknowledgement as a proper form of literature. And with Marvel and DC releasing new movies and tv shows every couple of months, anime like My Hero Academia dominating fan spheres, and trope-subverting titles like The Boys and Invincible streaming online, it’s unlikely that you haven’t read, watched, or heard of something to do with the comic book genre.
Still, if you’re looking into playing a comic book tabletop game, there isn’t really one major go-to in the community. Even going down to your local game store might prove difficult, since many of the better publications are now out of print, or available mostly through pdf. Few major publishers are coming out with superhero-styled games, perhaps anticipating that Marvel or DC might at some point release their own and drown out the market.
But that doesn’t meant that they aren’t out there. In fact, the lack of a ‘standard’ game provides plenty of variety to choose from. They can be found online, if not in person, and played just as easily.
Here are a few options, with their pros and cons.
These are games that are specifically created with a comicbook style of play and storytelling in mind. There are plenty of broader publications and game systems (FATE, Powered by the Apocalypse, or Savage Worlds) that have superhero settings available, but since they aren’t specifically written with comic books in mind, we haven’t included them here.
Mutants and Masterminds
Mutants and Masterminds is popular superhero game with lots going for it. You can set it in pretty much any ‘age’, and it requires only 1d20 to play.
It’s fairly easy to find copies of M&M, since it was pretty popular in the 90s and early 200s, and there’s a couple editions out there to choose from. There are plenty of supplements and modules floating around, too, as well as the ability to get really customized with your characters. Characters are designed by exchanging points (granted by the GM for completing missions or good roleplay) for superpowers and abilities, instead of a regular class system. This means that you can either level up your characters as you go along, or leave them with their same powers and abilities, and focus on buying tech, hideouts, and minions, and can really customize the way that your comic book adventure goes.
That being said, it’s combat relies on a convoluted ‘degrees of success’ system that can be fairly awkward to new players. You need to beat your opponents resistance scores by several multiples of 5 to fully take them out, which can make for somewhat clunky combat at times. It’s a lot of fun once you get used to it, but perhaps not the choice for a quick-start session, or younger kids.
Comic Book ‘Ages’ refer to different eras of comic book publication. As time passes, different genres, tropes, and themes have become popular, with different levels of superpowers, realism, and depth. You can read a brief overview here)
TSR Marvel Super Heroes
TSR Marvel Super Heroes is an old-school tabletop that actually went out of print after 1992, but you can still find pdfs online at the page linked here, and in various forums. It gives you the option to either make your own characters, or to play as preestablished Marvel characters. Granted, these are the mid-1980s versions of the characters, so there may be some differences if you've only watched the movies!
TSR Marvel is a great option for Marvel fans, as well as lovers of more old-school TTRPGs with lots of crunch. It’s all based around lore and characters that are already widely known and available to read about, so there shouldn’t be any shortage of inspiration for your campaigns. If you have players who haven’t read back that far in the canon, you could easily copy-and-paste your favorite runs and storylines for them. Kids and passing comic book fans will more easily be able to grasp the familiar settings and characters, too.
That said, the heavy crunch (which will make the game appealing to certain players) is also a downside for plenty. If you want a roleplay-heavy, no-fuss game that focuses on storytelling instead of combat, this might not be the option for you. Additionally, most players seem to share the complain that characters don’t really level up and advance in power (while this is closer to a regular comic, it might not be so appealing for players).
Prowlers and Paragons
If you want a more recently released game, Prowlers and Paragons was a Kickstarter-funded TTRPG released first in 2013. It’s got a streamlined d6 system based on the even numbers that you roll, with plenty of supplemental modules, NPCs, and sub-settings for you to choose from.
You can easily find various P&P books online at their website, and character creation is fairly customizable. It’s close to both M&M and TSR Marvel, with point-buy powers and abilities. It’s combat and ability system, however, is much simpler, and easier to get the hang of quickly. The various supplements available make it easy to find the exact worldbuilding that you’re looking for.
Of course, the streamlined combat can be a little boring for some players. If you want something a little more complex and crunchy, I’d recommend going back to one of the previously mentioned games. It’ll also be a little easier to find a community for those older games, simply due to the fact that they’ve been around longer.
Spectaculars is a boxed board-game style rpg, which mixes typical TTRPG mechanics with simplified character creation that board games tend to provide. This limits the creativity of the player when making their character, but does speed up the process. It also makes it a whole lot easier.
If you’re new to TTRPGs, or looking to play with kids, this is a great option to get started with. It’s also a perfect choice for cons or oneshots, since characters can be made and interchanged so easily. Plus, there’s several supplemental boxes available for making teams, villains, and other additional content.
That being said, the characters are also a little shallow. You don’t get to choose exactly the backstory that you want, since options are limited. If you’re looking to make the superhero original character that you’ve had for a while, you’ll probably want to choose another game.
Are there any superhero games that you’ve played, and we’ve missed? Have you played a favorite character in one such campaign? We’d love to hear about them below!