Recently, Mark asked for me to review Amp: Year One, a superhero game created by Eloy Lasanta and Third Eye Games. Now, Mark and I are good friends, so when he asks me for a favor, I’m more than willing to do it. Beyond that, I have a good background with comics and have always been drawn to super hero RPG. Having said that, I remembered seeing something about Amp: Year One not all too long ago and all that came to mind was “Another supers RPG?” I have to be honest, nothing grabbed me about the promotion that floated through my feed. Beyond that, I have been so very disappointed by most supers RPGs that I almost wonder why I need another one. So, I didn’t check this out immediately. Now, that I have, I am telling you—if you are of the same mind, put your objections aside and give this book a try. I did and I am glad I did.
What they Did Different for a Supers RPG
Honestly, I was looking for a reason to say bad things about this book. I hardly ever start out my reviews that way. It’s not a good way to give an honest review, after all. So, I started skimming at first. Then, I went back and started reading. Dammit. Foiled again.
I really wonder what I saw at first that left me with a luke warm or even cold impression of the game. Oh well, on to why this game is different from the other supers role-playing games out there and why I actually really like it.
First of all, unlike Champions, GURPS, or Mutants & Masterminds, Amp: Year One doesn’t give us a blank canvas with notes as to the creators’ campaign world. Instead, they provide us their campaign world. Initially, it has a few broad strokes. There isn’t anything super rare or unique in their story, but I do like their story. I also like that they present their story with enough detail yet enough gaps that it doesn’t give us OWoD meta-itis. It’s a pretty cool story and I can instantly see inserting my own characters into it, running players through it, all without upsetting what has been written. The author somehow found some happy medium between story detail and lack of detail. That alone would be enough to impress me.
Next, they did something here that I haven’t seen a lot of supers games do. They essentially made hero classes, called “strains.” These strains each have kind of broad yet thematically close power sets. I mention World of Darkness earlier, and the way the game allows you to buy in-strain and out-of-strain powers reminds me of that. Really, a few things remind me of the old White Wolf games, but none so much that it seems like a lame rip-off or reskinning.
I like the ideas of a “class” supers game. We get Mutants and Masterminds or GURPS or Champion and it’s here’s a point system, build your hero however you want them. AMP is definitely different. There’s much less math. You get X points for this, Y points for that, and some bonus points to spend at the end in whatever way you choose. I’ve toyed around with this concept myself a few times and never quite figured out the right way to do it. AMP figured it out in a good way, I think.
They brought about a new mechanic, which I is one of the few things I am not 100% sold on. You can use two “skills” and add each of their ranks to your roll result. Or, you can use one “skill” and add its result time one-and-a-half to the result. That just seems a bit off to me.
Another item I’m not fully sold on, although it seems solid is the game’s definition of skills. A number of their so-called skills include things we might be used to seeing as attributes, abilities, or otherwise separate from skills. So, if you’re used to a Stat + Skill system (as I am) you might also find it a bit weird. It’s not that I think there’s anything wrong with what they did here, but I just haven’t tried it yet, unless perhaps you count Fate or SFX. The skill list is bigger than Fate’s and you get more points to skills and—heck—SFX doesn’t even have a skill list, sooooo…..I’ll make the call after I get a few games under my belt.
They also brought about Juice. Juice is, like in other games, equivalent to Power Points. However, I like the free-flowing nature of Juice. They describe it with points moving freely between players and GM, like how Fate describes it, but they did some cool stuff with it and their explanation was pretty neat too. Hey, you’re putting yourself in danger, your heart is racing and adrenaline pumping—here’s an extra point of Juice to power up your powers. It makes sense in game, and that was a good call on the creator’s part.
They have Near Successes, which covers the “Yes, but…” we’re used to hearing in modern games like Savage Worlds. They also have Boost, which are like Critical Successes, although with multiple degrees—maybe like a really good roll in Rolemaster, but without all the charts. They also have critical successes and failures on a natural 20 and 1, respectively.
They really did a lot of work thinking about what most people are going to want in a supers game including loyalties. Oh, loyalties, I could write a whole post on that. You choose what motivates your character and it can help you be a hero or get in the way—whether you’re loyal to humanity, your community, yourself, or others.
So, by classing the system, the powers are divided into somewhat distinct groups. You have anything from blasters who fire beams from their hands to bulks who are fast and strong. One thing I noticed as missing, although it could possibly be done, is the random and wide effects of magic. You know what, though, that doesn’t detract from me. These supers are supposed to have powers based on genetics (more or less) and the randomness of magic just doesn’t seem to fit the theme. There is a luck based power, though, so maybe.
Check out this video from the creator on character creation:
Good Game from What I See
I think looking at this book is a lot like seeing someone take some great ideas from a number of earlier games and mesh them all together pretty much seamlessly. I’m certainly not challenging their creativity, because it took work to do what they did and the background story including tidbits from the first year show they’ve got storytelling chops. You can also augment your powers in this game, which is a way to personalize it.
The way the story works itself out and the mood it lays down, I could easily see this as a way to play in the world of the Heroes TV series, if you want. Heroes is listed as an inspiration. And, the writer says that X-Men is their biggest influence, and that makes sense too.
The artwork and layout on the book is solid. I could totally see a color version of this, although nothing is lost with the skillful black and white renderings. The editing is top notch as well.
While you might not be look for “another superhero roleplaying game” this might be the one you have been looking for.