When Der Flieger sent Polish troops scattering with his sonic booms? When he buzzed London without an aircraft and gained the name Mr. Messerschmitt from a terrified populace?
Do you remember Cien, the Pole who could lift things with his shadow? Or Pevnost, who could link any two doorways with the power of this mind, despite the distance between them?
Do you remember where you were when three million men crossed the Soviet border? Do you recall how the Indestructible Man swam away unscathed from the burning wreck of the Reuben James as it dragged nine-nine of his compatriots to a watery grave?
Or when Charles Lindbergh left for the Reich? Do you recall Null or Feuerzauber or Baba Yaga? Does the name Mr. Nowhere ring any any bells? The League of Five Thousand? Sheol? The Eisenhower Plan or Goldberg Science? Do you remember any of those things? Don’t worry. You will.
That’s how I remember my first look at Godlike. It was a handful of teaser pages at the Pagan Publishing website, now long gone except for samples buried in the Wayback Machine. The web pages themselves were rather hideous, in stark white text on a plain black background, but the ideas there — the ideas were thrilling. Dennis Detwiller had told me in email that he was about to publish a new game. I could tell already it would be staggering.
That was late 2001 or early 2002. I soon joined the old Godlike Yahoo! group. I had been helping Pagan run the Delta Green website, and Dennis’ colleagues at Hawthorne Hobgoblin Press asked me to set up and run a new Godlike website, too. At that time I had been working as a webmaster and website editor for a few years and I started working as a magazine editor. I’d done a tiny bit of freelance writing and editing for Pagan and published a few articles at Pyramid Online, but I hadn’t dealt too deeply with the RPG industry beyond being a deep-dyed fan. Godlike changed all that, and fast.
Over 2002 and 2003, Dennis became more and more interested in publishing Godlike and its spinoffs himself rather than running it through a publisher for whom it would be just a product line. He and I started talking it over. He’d been heavily involved with Pagan Publishing for several years as its art director. I’d gone through some of the challenges of running a company and managing freelancers. So we made a deal with Hawthorne Hobgolblin — by then they were Hobgoblynn Press; a few years later they’d change to Eos Press and then Eos Sama — to buy out their stock of Godlike and Will to Power, and we set up Arc Dream Publishing to sell those and to develop Godlike sourcebooks and new games.
Why go to all that trouble? Easy. I loved Godlike.
Courage in Action
Even in 2001 there had been plenty of superhero roleplaying games. I had played and enjoyed most of them. But to me, they were always a little shallow. At the best of times the player characters would have some investigation and puzzle-solving, some negotiation to conduct and some trickery to overcome — but in most game sessions, all that was a one-hour prelude to a single four-hour fight scene. The battles were fun! But they were fun in a boardgame way. What I love most about roleplaying games is getting into the head of a character. Moving pieces around strategically, making an awesome attack, sending a villain flying across the park with a lucky knockback roll, all that stuff was fun but it glossed over the issues of character and personality that I found most compelling.
Godlike is all about those character issues. The most important stat in the game is a character’s Will. Without Will, powers fail. Confronting the horrors of war drives Will into the dirt. Heroism brings it back, bit by bit. In Godlike, characters are supremely vulnerable to all the ways that war can kill you. Unless your particular Talent is being bulletproof, you are not bulletproof. Unless your Talent is a power to dodge bullets, you can’t dodge bullets—they can come out of nowhere and kill you just because you happened to be outside of cover at the the wrong moment. Godlike is about real courage and sacrifice in a way that I had seen in no other superhero game and in very few war games. All it takes is for the players to care a little about their characters for the game to be a study in fear and bravery.
And it’s loaded with amazing superpowers.
And the game system by Greg Stolze — we eventually named it the One Roll Engine — was fast and beautiful. Really skillful characters roll more dice, but even a small dice pool can sometimes come up with a freak result that sends a total bad-ass to the hospital or a mass grave. The order at which things happen changes every round. What actually occurs is not always the same as what you planned. It is frenetic and chaotic and scary. It is so much fun.
Do You Remember?
The first time I played Godlike was a game that Greg ran at GenCon 2002. My character was crippled by a rifle shot and I had a blast. At the same con I ran it a few times, and I started running it at cons and game shops every year after that. Here’s the amazing thing. In all the times I have run Godlike between 2002 and 2013, for total strangers and for my best friends, I have never had a bad game.
Let that sink in for a second.
I’ve had bad sessions of my all my other favorite games. I had my first bad game of my beloved old friend Flashing Blades just a couple of weeks ago. I have had a couple of bad games of Monsters and Other Childish Things, which I love just as deeply as Godlike though it’s such a different kind of game. I have had a couple of bad games of Wild Talents, which I helped build as Godlike’s spinoff. But I have never come away from a Godlike table thinking that the players didn’t have a great time. (Of course, if you had a lousy time at a game I ran and you hid it, tell me and I’ll quit bragging about this!)
I think there are a couple of factors at work. First, it always helps when the GM is enthusiastic, and you can tell how I feel about Godlike. Second, Godlike is so specific in its genre — gritty, dangerous superhero action in World War 2 — that it tends to attract gamers who are predisposed to liking it. And, critically, Godlike delivers on what it sets out to do.
I tell people Godlike is a lot like playing characters with X-Men powers in the world of Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers. Your character can do something amazing, but if you’re not careful and lucky, there’s a bullet or an artillery shell with your name on it. If that pitch grabs you like it does me, then you will adore Godlike.
And if you already have it, what are your favorite memories of the war?