The Independents: Sentinel Comics: The Roleplaying Game Starter Kit

A hush falls over Megapolis City. Citizen Dawn stands from atop his platform, looking over the destruction that her minions have wrought. “I am burdened with a great purpose.” Her voice, though not raised, seems to echo in the dead silence of the normally bustling street. “The bright lure of freedom has led you away from the joy of service. Service to people like me. I am here to correct that mistake.”

Splash Page: “Not if we have anything to say about it!” *The Freedom Five burst into frame* “Let’s go team!”

Based on the popular fixed-deck card game Sentinels of the Multiverse by Greater Than Games, Sentinel Comics: The Roleplaying Game takes you inside the capes of its heroes, pitting them against various dangers and threats which plague the city. Players take up the mantles of very familiar sounding superheroes, combining the backstory from the card games with fresh RPG mechanics and greater narrative freedom. The Starter Kit provides a copy of the rule book, six characters to choose from, and a number of missions, enough to get a campaign of your adventures in Megapolis City going.

The game functions on a pretty unique mechanics system known as“GYRO” (explicitly mentioned in the rulebook as having nothing to do with sandwiches). It stands for “Green, Yellow, Red, Out” and refers to levels of danger zones that the scenes and individual players can reach. This mechanic works for both the overall scene, and the characters themselves. In the case of the overall scene, the tracker has a series of eight boxes that can be filled in, though abilities and situations can alter that number. One box is automatically checked off every round, slowly building the overall tension and danger level of the scene (what is used as the Status). However, players are able to gain temporary boosts at the cost of moving the tracker further along. Players also have statuses of their own, which reflects how much peril they are individually in.

One feature that I like is that the further down each of those trackers the more powerful characters become . . . right up until the moment they get knocked out. Character sheets have lists of powers, but they begin the scenes with only basic ones available. Players are able to invoke “Twists” to access higher level powers, but in doing so they advance the scene tracker. The underlying message: greater power is always there, but it comes at a price. Pushing ever closer to the limits is great, but there comes risks along with those rewards. If a character’s tracker is filled, they are Out for the encounter . . . but if the Scene tracker is filled, the situation ends in a failure: the bomb goes off, the villain escapes, or the hostage is killed. Jumping for the coolest stunt or pushing powers runs the risk of ending it for everybody.

The players choice of actions is simplified into only a few options. “Overcome” deals with overcoming an obstacle or taking a risky action (holding up a failing bridge, jumping onto the roof of a speeding car). How successful you are depends on how much higher you rolled than your target. Lower success margins have you succeed but at the cost of further complications, and high enough successes can even add on bonuses. It’s a story effect that reminds me a bit of Powered by the Apocalypse games, or Fantasy Flight Star Wars, and it’s a tweak that I enjoy. The other actions are a bit more straightforward: Boost/Hinder (add a plus or minus to the results of an enemy of ally’s roll), Attack (deal damage), Defend (reduce damage from incoming attacks) and Recover (recover health).

For each of these, players form a dice pool, picking one die (ranging from d4 to d12) from three applicable categories: Status, Powers and Qualities. Status we covered before: players choose the higher die that corresponds to their or the scene’s GYRO tracker, with a higher sided die for how dire it it. Qualities reflect skills that the characters might have: Leadership, Ranged Combat, Creativity or Science are all examples, and the player is able to use whatever one they can justify. Powers are unique to each character, and are ranked on their own GYRO tracker (with the corresponding dice to roll). They also tend to manipulate how the results of the pool are read after the dice are rolled.

Once the pool of three dice is ready, the player rolls. Looking at the roll, the results are sorted into Min, Mid and Max, reflecting the number values ranging from lowest to highest. Typically, the effect generated is based off of the Mid die. However, Powers can often change which of these values are used. One example might be “Use the Max die while inflicting damage, but inflict Min damage on yourself” or “use Max plus Min”. From there, the effect is resolved and the turn is handed off to whoever is next.

Turn order is free flowing, and players can often choose to stack in initiatives to give themselves combos: Boost an ally and then have your ally attack the villain. Hinder the villain, and then have an ally tank the next attack. However, villains are in the same free flowing order. The book warns that all the players going first can leave all villains in the scene to act together, possibly concentrating on a single target. The scenes do seem to form organically, and it seems that it can be easy to get caught up in the moment. (By now some may have noticed that, at least when it comes to things like the dice pool and initiative, SC:TRPG is descended from Cortex and Marvel Heroic Roleplaying- Ed.)

Character sheets are premade, based on six of the heroes from the Sentinels of the Multiverse card game. Each sheet  is preset with backstory and provides the character’s Principles, Powers, Qualities and Abilities. The character’s Principles give prompts for Twists players can use (“why is your equipment failing you?”), and the sheet lists the character’s Powers, Qualities and Abilities. In theory, you could make your own original characters, but the rulebook does not provide any rules about how to make them. It does rankle me to say this…but you probably should color between the lines in this case. I generally prefer to make my own character, even if I don’t manage the most efficient or powerful option, so I would understand why people are frustrated with this. However, each of the powers is ranked into a tier in a GYRO system similar to the overall scene tracker. Creating new abilities, or mixing and matching powers from different playbooks, holds a great deal of temptation, and I would worry about balancing with the rest of the party.

One feature I do appreciate is that the Qualities selection offers broad interpretations for how to accomplish tasks. It can allow players to attempt creative options within the relatively narrow action list. While the main mechanics boil down to simpler roles, if players can think of useful combinations to use different attributes it can lead to rewarding results.

Overall, I think the game deserves a look through simply because I think that the GYRO mechanic and dice system are neat, and I would like to see more versions of that. However, I do worry about the lack of character development options. The character’s motivations and powers are spelled out. Even in the more simplified rulesets found in Powered by the Apocalypse games, you always have some room to tweak, and you were free to generate your own backstory. If you are looking for a short campaign, or you want to introduce someone into gaming without overwhelming them, this might be a solid option. However, because so many components of characters are already set I have doubts about using this system in any sort of longer campaign, at least until the full game is released.

You can find the Sentinel Comics: The Roleplaying Games Starter Kit digital version on DriveThruRPG for $9.95, and more information about the game and the physical version for $19.95 on Greater Than Games’ own site.

For further adventures in superhero RPGs, check out the log for Seamus’ excellent campaign, High Impact Heroics. Image credit to Greater Than Games

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