Game Review: Invulnerable: Tabletop Super Hero Roleplaying Game by Joshua Kubli from Imperfekt Gammes

Let me preface this review with a disclaimer. Though I like comic book movies, animated series, and even read comics occasionally, I’m not a huge fan of RPGs that try to capture that genre and I have no clue why. I’ve tried all sorts of games over the years, from Champions and Marvel Super Heroes to Aberrant, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness, and Heroes Unlimited. All of them seem unbalanced, which is almost a requirement of the super hero genre, which makes me avoid them usually.

So when Joshua Kubli pinged me a few months ago to look at Invulnerable, I wondered why I said yes to a review. If I was to follow tradition, I would have said no. But I was curious. With all the buzz around the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game, it seemed that superheroes are back in RPGs with a vengeance and I wanted to take a look around.

What is Invulnerable? It’s a superhero RPG based around the Cosmology Engine. RPG Geek describes the core rules as: “The Cosmology RPG Engine uses 3d6 + Attribute + Talent vs. a Difficulty Number for task resolution. Character creation is designed to be quick and smooth, but combat is gritty and intense.” It’s the same system behind Dirge Dark Modern Fantasy Roleplaying Game and the Tales of Glory and Terror Fantasy Roleplaying Game.

The book starts with a basic overview of the system, a list of inspirational materials, and an introduction to certain concepts such as “irrational” matter and energy. Honestly I love this “irrational” idea, which explains why some individuals are affected and others aren’t in this universe. And the waves of metahuman activity in the alternate history reminds me of the Wild Cards series or “The Big Bang” from the Static Shock comic books.

Invulnerable uses Cosmology at its core, but adds fun bits for weapons (ancient, modern, and future) as well as vehicles (some pre-built or build your own). It also includes an alternate Earth with some fun twists. But really it’s all about the talents and abilities your metahumans have.

Character creation boils down to a pretty straightforward point buy approach with some computed scores (assets). Step 8 of the summary on page 10 makes it sound like computing these “assets” is higher math and requires a web page tool, but don’t believe it. There’s no calculus here, just simple addition and subtraction.

To create a character, pick two Motivations (things like “Freedom” and “Justice”) then pick one or more origins (depends on your “Awesomeness” level). Awesomeness seems to relate to the “power” level for the campaign (from low-awesomeness mostly normal heroes to multi-universe levels of power. These levels tell you how many points you can spend to buy your stuff.

What can you buy with those points? Attribute levels (5 = Average, 15 = The Hulk). Powers (Grow/Shrink like Ant Man, turn Invisible, etc.). Talents (Intimidation, “More Money than God”, etc.). And Weaknesses (Addiction, Dirt Poor, etc.). Then you figure out your assets (Health, Reputation, Mental Defense, and so on), get some gear (tools, weapons, vehicles), and you’re on your way to becoming a beacon of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way!”

Combat seems pretty straightforward, using consistent mechanics for combat and skill resolution. My concern is that Cosmology seems to fall into the “handful of dice” camp, but adds in a bit of a “Zocchi Dice” approach with 1/2 dice (d3) and 1/4 dice (d2). There’s some entertaining math that comes
into play where d2 + d2 = a d6 and d3 + d3 = a d6. I’ve played with a few players that aren’t great at looking at a rolled handful of dice to figure things out, let alone when you add in partials. So this may not be a great system for those folks.

I’ll make a suggestion for the Combat chapter… There’s a great character creation summary early in Chapter Two that really offers a simplified stepwise process that the following pages and chapters help flesh out. Chapter 11: Combat would benefit from a similar list of steps.

The campaign and adventure design sections in the GM section were a welcome surprise. Offering concrete ideas and examples in simple terms for developing a storyline worthy of a bunch of superheroes is terrific and I wish other books would take this approach. Having genre-specific suggestions will take a lot of pressure off a new GM or a GM just picking up the game. And if you generify some of these suggestions I think they’d work in other genres and games as well.

If you’re looking for a superhero game, Invulnerable has a lot to offer. I’m not so sure about the “handful of dice” mentality, but that’s a minor point. Also among the odd little things were some writing issues (“a Modification that reduces the level is a Penalties”), odd table formatting with the title at the bottom (I had to retrain myself to look at the bottom), lack of definitions (what’s an “AP” in combat? it’s not in the index), quite a few blank pages that aren’t really needed in an electronic version, and a really small font for reading on an iPad. It’s an odd laundry list, but they’re niggly little things…

Ultimately there’s a lot to like here… Even if you don’t play super hero RPGs. :)

For more about Invulnerable and Imperfekt Gammes…

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