So first, let’s be honest. The whole ‘Supers’ genre isn’t typically ‘my bag, baby.’ However, when I saw it, I couldn’t resist. It was the cover that caught my attention: Bright, shining, and fire… lots and lots of fire. The flaming text, the fireballs. Yeah, baby! However, Better Angels by Arc Dream Publishing is also not young. It was released in 2013, so why haven’t I heard of it before now? Well, I could give some excuses, but let’s be honest, until I started this blog and doing reviews I didn’t know half the games I’m discovering, and this past several months have been one amazing ride and it’s not over yet.
So enough about me, let’s talk about the book. First technical details. The book is well made, clean and very attractive. The text inside is neatly organized, easy to read and has enough text variation between headers and main blocks to make it quick to skim for important bits. They combined both bullet points and coloration differences on specific tactics, specialties, and strategies to make it a lot quicker to build a character. All in all, this makes the book excellent, except for one detail that makes my soul kind of shiver. Comic Sans. Yes, it’s used in the book, however, I also understand it. After all, comic books use it a lot (hence the name Comic Sans). It makes it a little harder to take seriously, but that’s OK. And as an aside, the free pdf thing, it’s legit. I took a picture of me holding my book and my email, sent it off and within the day got the pdf link from DriveThruRPG, which was AWESOME. It made me so happy (As you probably know by now, I’m the pdf girl. My husband likes the physical copies).
Alright, first things first. Unlike other books that I’ve read, specifically RPGs this book is very focused on telling a story as it’s walking you through the mechanics. Normally I don’t think that’s a good approach, but in this instance, in my opinion, I believe it is a very good thing. The stories in the book can help you get an idea for the feel of the game the designer envisioned when they’re done right, and these were done quite well.
Character creation is a two part process for Better Angels. First part is you creating the human portion of yourself via a point buy system. The points aren’t a lot, but at the same time, there’s not a lot of stuff to buy and there’s a max of how many points you can have in specific things. The second part is the demon part. However, you don’t get to make that part, someone else at the table does, typically the person to your right. Of course, this also means you’re creating someone else’s demon. Yes, demon. One of the big things it talks about in the book is how evil, or eeeevil is less the human, but more a demon riding shotgun on a supervillain, and how if sometimes you don’t feed that demon, very very bad things happen. This is done mechanically via what they have called Sinister and Virtuous.
The game rules themselves are a little more complicated than I’m used to, but they did a fairly good job of explaining them. I’m not going to go into much specific detail, however it uses the one roll engine and a break down of mechanic specifics can be found HERE. Now, one of the mechanics come into play is one that I typically don’t use at my table, player vs player. However, in this game it’s typically necessary. The demon side of your super villain is played by another player at the table. They’re referred to as the Screwtape. (Named after the main character in C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters.) However, despite this, most of the game still focuses on everyone on the table having fun. My favorite quote is, “The game’s a little like the internet. Just because you can comment on everything doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Only contribute when your contribution is wanted (or when it makes things more interesting for every-one) Page 97.
Of course, eventually the demon and human have to reach a resolution, this is detailed starting on page 98 with Final Conflicts. The rest of the book details the ‘enemy list’ also known as the angels, then a list of specific NPCs your players can encounter.
So, all in all this is a fairly interesting book and I enjoyed it. Is it something I personally will play? At the moment probably not as I have a very fullplate but I hope to get a chance sometime in the future. To the people I know who enjoy super hero super villain, (Looking at you Dean Lewis) I recommend this book and suggest you take a good gander at what’s on the table. I doubt you’ll be disappointed. Love you all, and happy gaming!
- Joann Walles