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Superhero 2044

Entry updated 8 May 2015. Tagged: Game.

Role Playing Game (1977). Gamescience. Designed by Donald Saxman.

Superhero 2044 is the earliest example of a professionally produced Role Playing Game based on the mythology of the Superhero. (A first edition was self-published in 1977 as Superhero '44, inspired by an unreleased game created by John M Ford.) Its most remarkable feature is perhaps how little influence it had on later designs. By convention, Superhero stories take place in an alternate present. This game's setting, however, is a Pacific island in the eponymous year, one of the few places on Earth left largely untouched by World War Three. The premise is that social changes combined with technological advances, Mutations resulting from the war, and the arrival on Earth of intelligent Aliens have made crime fighting by superhuman vigilantes both possible and welcome. This is an interesting approach to the problem of making a Superhero game credible, though the background presented by Saxman lacks plausibility.

The game's mechanics are even less conventional than its milieu. The design emphasizes interactions in which only one player and the Gamemaster participate, or in which written instructions are processed by the Gamemaster alone. Players might then learn of each other's activities through the Gamemaster, and on rare occasions act as a group. By the standards of Role Playing Game design, this approach is remarkably asocial. Of all the innovations suggested by the rules, perhaps the only one to have any real influence on the development of the form was the approach to creating characters, whose abilities are selected by their players using a points system rather than chosen randomly. This mechanic, which appeared for the first time in this work and in the Sword and Sorcery game The Fantasy Trip (see Role Playing Games) in the same year, has been used in most subsequent Superhero based Role Playing Games. As a design, however, Superhero 2044 is fundamentally flawed, lacking both coherency and completeness. It was soon eclipsed by such successors as Villains and Vigilantes (1979), Champions (1981) and Golden Heroes (1984). [NT]

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