Wild Talents is a roleplaying game from Arc Dream Publishing. A sequel to Godlike in both mechanics and setting, it's massively expanded from the original into a hugely adaptable superhero game specializing in bizarre superheroes and other super-empowered beings.
The heart of the game mechanics is the One Roll Engine, which is based around resolving actions in a single roll. One attack roll, for instance, will tell you if you hit, where you hit, and how hard and fast you hit. There is a great deal of emphasis on flexibility and customization. There are loads of optional rules for streamlining the rules, adding complexity, or lowering or raising the lethality of combat—the latter in particular, as the basic game is extremely lethal. Wear a helmet.
The most impressive feature is the extensive and wide-open superpower creation rules, allowing for complex or unusual supernatural abilities expressed in a simple fashion. You first buy your Archetype, which is composed of a Source and Permission. Sources are where you get your powers from, Permissions are what you can do. You can pick multiple sources if you wish (for instance, a mutant who's also bolted into a suit of power armor would have the Genetic and Science sources), and if you want a grab bag of random powers, you can always pick the Super permission (to make someone like the Silver-age Superman). After that, you can buy Hyperstats (for super-strength, super-intelligence, etc.), Hyperskills (for super-martial-arts, super-hacking, etc.), and/or Miracles, which cover the flatly impossible (eye lasers, subdermal armor, projecting your soul out of your body, being a Martian, etc.)
Miracles are built on three qualities—Attacks, Defends, and Useful. Each represents one way a power can be used. For example, Spider-Man's webs can be used to attack (shooting web balls), defend (pull him out of the way of attacks), and be useful (swing from building to building, tie up foes, and be used for web-like stuff). In Wild Talents terms, you'd buy ADUUU—one Useful for swinging, one Useful for tying, and a Useful with Variable Effect to represent Everything Else. Add Extras, Flaws, and you get the cost per die. Voila! Your own superpower!
The heart of the game's settings, however, is the open defiance of Reed Richards Is Useless; its main theme is "If you can change the world, how does the world change?" With two exceptions (This Favored Land, intended to be The Civil War WITH SECRET SUPERHEROES!, and eCollapse, a dark Transmetropolitan-esque satire), every setting is dramatically altered by the presence of "talents," the game's term for Differently Powered Individual types. While Godlike's talents made the world a weirder place, the end results of World War II are recognizable. Contrariwise, after WWII, history goes Off the Rails with dramatic ferocity, creating an elaborate hi-tech Alternate History full of heroes, villains, the uncanny, and the all-too-human, described in loving and elaborate detail. Other settings, such as Grim War, This Favored Land, The Kerberos Club, Progenitor, and eCollapse all take the concept of superheroics in a different and fascinating direction. Kenneth Hite's essay "Changing the Course of Mighty Rivers" explains how you can make your own.
Definitely worth a look. The base rules are only 10 bucks (5 for a .pdf) if you don't want to get the giant hardback version, and versions of The Kerberos Club for Savage Worlds and FATE are available.
The core game contains examples of:
- A God Am I: A risk with more powerful talents in more settings. In Progenitor Amanda Sykes has a cult that believes she's an incarnation of the Virgin Mary, and while she initially ignores them as she becomes increasingly interventionist in world politics she decides to publicly embrace them in the 90s, as well as taking over two other metahuman-founded cults.
- Alternate Company Equivalent: Some of the sample characters are designed to evoke famous superheroes. Also Invoked in a way—Superman is indirectly credited for the large number of Flying Bricks.
- Alternate History: The backbone of each setting.
- Alternate Universe Reed Richards Is Awesome: You bet, kid!
- Atomic Superpower: What's the first power listed in the book? "Suppress Nuclear Fusion." At a level sufficient to turn off the sun, killing all life on earth. Why? Just to show what you can do.
- Note that you can buy two hard dice of that power as a standard 250-point character. You won't be able to do anything else—you'll be a social maladept, fragile, sickly, and lacking in any worthwhile skills, not to mention unable to survive the sun turning off—but you'll essentially have the world at ransom. Or you could use it to defuse every nuclear warhead on the planet. Or all the nuclear power plants...
- Badass Normal: Via the Peak Performer archetype, these are people with Batman-level Willpower and hyperskills out the wazoo.
- Beware the Superman: A possible theme, and witnessed in Progenitor.
- Blue-and-Orange Morality: Both of the two alien species in World Gone Mad are examples of this. The Builders go around destroying planets in the name of "organizing" the universe. The Fish, if anything, are even stranger: they start a war with humanity that lasts five years, then suddenly announce they want to enter an alliance against the Builders, and see no need to explain themselves on either count.
- Brought Down to Normal: Run out of Willpower and your Talents become unreliable. Get smacked with a permanent nullify power and pray you have enough Willpower to save your ass.
- By the Power of Grayskull!: A common trick is to Attach all of your powers to a cheap "transform into a superhero" power. While you'll be completely without superpowers otherwise, a flat two point discount on every power quality has its appeal... and you can make that "transform into a superhero" power permanent.
- Cape Busters: One sample character is a kid whose parents were killed during a Talent altercation, and who subsequently trained himself to insane levels. Naturally, this technically makes him a Talent.
- Captain Ethnic / Captain Geographic / Captain Patriotic: Present and accounted for, though their fates or personalities are rarely pleasant.
- Charles Atlas Superpower: "Training" is a possible power source. As with any source, it can be combined with any permission, so yes, you can train yourself to hurl fireballs or fly.
- Competitive Balance: Left as an exercise for the game master and players. The authors openly admit that game balance depends on the players and GM working together and making sure their characters synch up well with the challenges.
- Comes Great Responsibility: One of the core themes of the game, reinforced by its mechanics. Without Willpower, you're a shadow of your full potential. To maintain your Willpower, you have to stand up for what you believe in.
- Critical Existence Failure: Averted. Getting hit disrupts your actions, getting filled up with damage lowers your limbs' ability to function, and if you drop dead from one hit, it's because the attack blew your head off or turned you to stone.
- Damage Typing: Comes in Shock and Killing flavors. Shock is the damage of punches, clubs, and Tasers; killing the damage of knives and axes; and guns, explosives, and other powerful attacks (including superpowers, by default) deal Shock and Killing damage at once. This means a regular 2x10 shot to the head with a pistol will instantly drop an unarmored human; a 2x10 result with a rifle or shotgun is instantly lethal.
- It also comes in thematic typing. "Non-Physical" attacks ignore mundane armor but are negated completely by some thematic weakness—stand behind a thin lead sheet and that non-physical X-ray beam is useless, for instance.
- Differently Powered Individual: In "World Gone Mad," heroes are known as Talents or Wild Talents. In Grim War, they're mutants; in The Kerberos Club, they're the Strange.
- Fantasy Kitchen Sink: Kenneth Hite refers to this as "High Blue" or "The Lovely and the Pointless."
- Fight Off the Kryptonite: Can be done with Willpower, important if you don't want to be mind controlled, banished to another dimension, or disintegrated.
- Heroic Willpower: The fuel behind supernatural abilities. Bottom out and your powers start to falter. Build it back up by conquering your foes, overcoming your inner demons, and being awesome.
- Hybrid-Overkill Avoidance: Averted and played straight simultaneously. Averted, because as long as you've got the points, you can be whatever the hell you want and the system can take it. Played straight in that the only significant advantage in being, say, a half-demon half-dragon cyborg wolf vampire Saiyan would be resistance to Nullify powers.
- I Believe I Can Fly: Flight tends to be a common power both in-setting and at the table. Flight is a very inexpensive and useful power.
- Idiot Ball: For some reason, the immediate global response to an approaching alien attack is massive rioting. The Builder attack ended up being thwarted with relative ease, but the public reaction to the threat was so destructive there might as well have been an invasion.
- Because of the prior event, it was decided that the war against the Fish would be kept secret. It didn't take long for the public to notice the missing Talents (who were needed to fight) or the missing funds from the United Trade international economic program. The end result was a severely reduced global Talent population and the First World ruining its own reputation when United Trade failed to uplift the Third World as promised. How on Earth did hyperbrains come to the conclusion that any of this wouldn't blow up in their faces?
- In Spite of a Nail: A strong component of "High Red" worlds, as explained in Kenneth Hite's essay.
- The World Gone Mad setting plays with this trope. For example, during the Kennedy administration, an international incident threatens to spark a war with the Soviet Union and bring about The End of the World as We Know It. The incident centers around Lebanon, and happens in 1971. Similarly, Vice President Al Gore serves in an administration that is rocked by scandal in its later years, and loses the subsequent presidential election. This happens in the 2000s, and the scandal is that President Bob Kerrey kept a war with extraterrestrials secret from the American public.
- Kryptonite Factor: A disadvantage you can take, and one of only a few that lowers your point total.
- Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards: Averted! A brawler can be just as deadly as a magician, just in a different way. Notably, you can buy one die of Brawl hyperskill and load it up with Extras much more cheaply than lumping them all onto your Body stat.
- Luck Manipulation Mechanic: The Aces power from the Miracle Cafeteria. Notable in that it requires willpower to work.
- Mad Scientist: Hey, they didn't put those gadgeteering rules in there for nothin'. Get cracking!
- Memetics in Fiction: In Progenitor it’s called “Syntergenics”, a compound of synergies, genetics, syntax, and interaction. Supers can create weapons-grade syntergenes.
- The Minion Master: With the Minions and Sidekick powers, perfectly doable! One Minion Master in Progenitor causes World War III.
- Min-Maxing: Quite friendly to it, and a guide to basic min-maxing is included after the power creation rules. Why? So long as one guy doesn't try to one-up every other person at the table, min-maxing creates extra-effective and efficient characters.
- New Powers as the Plot Demands: Between Variable Effect, Augment, and using Willpower to buy or upgrade powers in play, there's no shortage of ways to pull a new power outta nowhere just when you need it.
- Non-Lethal K.O.: If you fill someone's head up with Shock damage, they're just unconscious, not dead. Be careful not to deal too much Shock, though.
- Not Wearing Tights: Sometimes yes, sometimes no, and sometimes changing with the setting.
- In the World Gone Mad, World War II Talents don't wear costumes or even special insignias because that instantly makes them priority target number one. Later on, however, costumed vigilantes start making their presence known, in part because the average Talent became much sturdier.
- In Grim War, government-sponsored mutants are almost always deployed in costume, just so the enemy knows just how badly they're going to get beaten.
- In eCollapse, the difference between having a costume and not having a costume is the difference between being a superhero and being a crazy person with illegal biological upgrades... which you are anyway, but at least you've got a cause.
- Point Build System: An elaborate one at that.
- Psychosomatic Superpower Outage: When you run out of willpower, this happens. Your powers still function, just at half strength and without any bonus dice.
- Reed Richards Is Useless: Taken out back and shot.
- World Gone Mad plays this somewhat straight with Gadgeteers, whose physics-defying "Gadgets" are impossible to mass produce, and thus have limited impact on the world. Nevertheless, the existence of Hyperbrains means various real-world technologies are developed sooner, such as the first personal computer (the "Xerox Home Office") appearing in 1972.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: "Low Black" is cynical, "High Black" is idealistic.
- Special Snowflake Syndrome: A mind-reader permanently scarred by Joe Mc Carthy. The alien who crash-landed at Roswell. A giant robot who's also a hippie gadgeteer. A crazy guy dressed like a Minuteman who can manipulate luck and enjoys Offscreen Teleportation. That's The Odd Squad, the heroes on the cover of the book and the characters used in examples. This game is designed to foster and nurture bizarro heroes.
- Splash Damage Abuse: Averted. While getting caught in an explosion is no fun, it's much, much nastier to be the one at the center.
- Super-Empowering: The Dark Energy that powers superpowers in the Progenitor setting is contagious, with any super out to ten degrees of separation from Amanda Sykes, the titular Progenitor, having a chance of giving powers to a non-powered individual they use their powers on. Allowing plenty of opportunities to both Create Your Own Hero and Create Your Own Villain.
- Superhero Speciation: Encouraged by the rules. Lack of it is occasionally mocked or highlighted in-text; Progenitor includes stat blocks for "Zippermen" (its version of the flying brick) at every level of power.
- Superpower Lottery: Touched on in several settings. Those who win the lottery tend to be batshit insane "Mad Talents" in Godlike and Wild Talents. Extremely literal in Progenitor, where one woman gained Manhattan-level superpowers by obscene cosmic accident, and ten other people randomly obtained a fragment of her power, who then passed it on to one hundred others, and so on, with the closer you are to the source the more powerful you are.
- Superhero Packing Heat: A viable option at low levels, when buying up blasting powers can be pricey. At higher levels, you only have nukes to turn to for bigger firepower.
- Superhero Prevalence Stages: Outside of the lower-power settings, an inevitability. Some do so gradually, like Wild Talents; others erupt with little forewarning, like The Cerberus Club.
- Status Quo Is God: "High Gold" stories.
- That One Disadvantage: There are only a handful of disadvantages, and most of them are so hideous for such little payoff you'll have to be very dedicated to the character you wanna play to take 'em.
- Notably, you can pay 5 points to be hideously crippled by lacking a stat, including Body (no physical body, meaning you can't interact with the physical world even with Talents), Coordination (complete immobility), Sense (complete inability to perceive the outside world), Command (no will or self-direction of your own) or Charm (apocalyptic inability to read others' emotions and responses—an example given is gunning down a five-year old for smiling, or rather "bearing its teeth threateningly").
- Trainstopping: Buy the No Physics extra to pull off stunts like this.
- Universal System: To a degree. Sans the superpowers it's already a fairly robust system, and the powers rules can be ported to any setting or style that has discreet powers. That said, there are versions of ORE specialized for other genres.