Tags: golden heroes

Hold, Evildoers! BIFF!! POW! WHAM!!!

Ah, superheroes. Who doesn't like superheroes? Who hasn't read at least a few comics? Seen a few films? I certainly have, used to collect quite few and have watched the films move from the DC end of the spectrum (Superman, Batman) to the Marvel (Spiderman, Xmen, Avengers et al). Still browse a few titles here and there when I pop into Forbidden Planet, but my collecting days are over, moved from Western to Japanese, then dabbled in Anthropomorphic and European, still pick up the odd graphic novel here and there, but those boxes of comics in my mother's attic are just gathering dust until I decide what to do with them. Don't worry, polybagged. Anyone want New Mutants issues 1-100? Got the Leifeld issues where Cable and Deadpool appear.

Of course I've also played a few Superhero RPGs in my time; Champions, Marvel Super Heroes, Superworld, GURPS Supers (with its Wild Cards setting books). But one the best was Golden Heroes by Simon Burley and Pete Haines, published by Games Workshop in 1984. This was one of the first of Games Workshop's own in-house titles, when they still had the dice logo. This was, and indeed still is a great game. Everything was keyed to make it look and feel like you were playing a comic book. The rules books even looked like comics, with fake barcodes and Comics Code Authority markings. You generated your character randomly rolling for his stats (Ego, Strength, Dexterity and Vigour), the number of powers (from 5 to 10) and then for the powers themselves. Then you came up with a backstory for your character. If you couldn't rationalise all the powers you'd rolled, you had to discard the ones that didn't fit. The combat mechanism was innovative, dividing a round into "frames", like the frames in a comic strip, where your character could act. You could also chose to do non-lethal damage, Hits-To-Coma, rather than Hits-To-Kill, being true heroes you'd naturally chose the former, this was definitely four-colour superhero comic territory, owing more to Adam West than Tim Burton. First time I played my character, Golden Eagle (Strength, Tough Skin, Claws, Flight, Reactions, Cybrnetic Weapon-Claws and Health-Regeneration), I decided to do Hits-to-Kill on a non-super powered minion. And more or less turned him into chutney. Ew. Spent quite a while living that one down. And the thing is you did have to live it down, your Campaign Ratings included a Public Status section; how well liked you were, how well recognised, how much support or backing you could expect, it also included a Personal Status section: your conscience, your expression of character, even your emotional security. All this and more had a bearing on how your character developed over the course of play.

Apart from the system, one of the highlights of the game was the art. This was stunning, eclipsing anything that has appeared since, with illustrations from such luminaries as Brian Bolland, Brendan McCarthey, Brett Ewins, David Hine and the incomparable Alan Davis (the artist behind Miracleman and the Captain Britain Jaspers Warp/Excaliber sagas, which gave us the most terrifying creature ever to stride the pages of Marvel Comics; the Fury). I still have my copy of the game, and all of the few supplements that were ever released, one of the gems of my collection. Alas that Game Workshop stopped supporting it after a few years, there were a few good articles in White Dwarf (when it was still good, when they still did stuff for other games systems and hadn't tuned into "Warhammer Monthly" as it is now) then Golden Heroes faded from the scene, apart from its die-hard adherents.

However, a couple of years ago Simon Burley resurrected the system, updated to correct the few flaws and awkward parts of the original and relaunched it as Golden Heroes 2- Squadron UK. This looked promising, with a whole load of supplements to join the main rules. Unfortunately he then got a polite letter from Games Workshop pointing out that he'd signed over all the rights to Golden Heroes to them when they published it so could he stop making any mention of their game and, since Squadron UK was now heavily linked with Golden Heroes, could he please stop selling that as well. Or else. I gather that Mr Burley is now working on a new setting, with a new system that will hopefully still capture that four colour feel that Golden Heroes evoked so well. I look forward to seeing it.

I was at my Mother's house over the weekend, an extended bank holiday weekend to give the Wife and I a little break. I picked up a few superhero-themed items, the wickedly funny (and rude) "How To Be a Superhero" by Mark Leigh and Mike Levine (illustrated by Steve Dillon) and the extremely daft "Stuper Powers Deluxe" RPG from Wingnut Games, "The First Rate Role-Playing Game For Third Rate Heroes". The latter does come close to capturing the feel of a superhero game like Golden Heroes did, although in Golden Heroes you most certainly did not get powers like Prehensile Nipples, or Summon Mariachi Band, or Drop 60 Foot Toilet From The Sky. And I think we'd better gloss over Ballistic Spooge. It's a fun game, with most task resolutions worked out by flipping a coin or rock/paper/scissors, great for a silly beer and pretzels rpg evening. But if I really wanted to play a superhero genre RPG seriously (or as seriously as you can get while wearing your underpants on the outside) I would choose Golden Heroes every time.

While we're on the supject of superheroes, the one series I do collect is "Empowered" by Adam Warren. There's six graphic novels now, and two comic book specials, and a honking huge collected hardback edition which costs the equivalent of the GNP of a third world country but has a shed-load of bonus material. I like Empowered, some might think this is because the eponymous heroine of the title is a very well endowed blonde who's super suit has the consistency of tissue paper, but you'd be wrong. Empowered is actually a very well observed satire on the whole superhero genre, much like Tank Vixens was on Furry culture. I appreciate it for the social commentary, not the gratuitous nudity or sexual content.

You're giving me that look again...