Review: Catalyst Game Labs – Valiant Universe RPG

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Valiant Universe RPG
Valiant Universe RPG is a superhero role-playing game, based in the Valiant comic universe, written by Randall N. Bills and Phillip A. Lee and published by Catalyst Game Labs.
By Aaron T. Huss
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Valiant Universe RPG is the latest entry of comic books made into tabletop role-playing games. It features superheroes from the Valiant Comics universe and is powered by the same game system as Cosmic Patrol with a slight change for powers. The system is simple and story-oriented and keeps with the GM-less features of the original system, allowing everyone to have a turn at being the antagonist of the story. All in all, it’s a very solid entry into the comic book RPG realm and a good addition to anyone’s library.

I was a big comic book fan in the 1980s and 1990s. One of the heroes I like was Ninjak, although I didn’t get much of a chance to enjoy him as I was at the tail-end of my fandom. When I saw that Catalyst was developing a comic book-based RPG, I had my doubts. When I saw that it was set in the Valiant Universe, my curiosity was piqued. When I got my hands on the Quick Start Guide, all of doubts fell to the floor and my eyes opened to something amazing.

I have a bit of a problem with many superhero RPGs. Many of them feel like regular RPGs with a superhero theme wrapped around them. But when you look at comic books, superhero careers are nothing like what most RPGs represent. They generally don’t have long-term campaigns, battling hordes of mooks until reaching the one big-bad. At least not the comic books I was a fan of. Every one I read consisted of short adventures (with deeper stories in the later years) with one to only a mere handful of adversaries to deal with. But most RPGs are mechanically designed to play like long-term campaigns or lengthy adventures against lots of different adversaries. So when I finished reading through the introduction of the Quick Start Guide and realized it was based on the same, very simple system of Cosmic Patrol, I got a glimpse of those comic book-like adventures, pinning the heroes against villains that were all-but equally matched. This is all done without adding a bunch of layers of mechanics.

Valiant Universe RPG is powered by a GM-less system whereas each player spends an entire scene as the Lead Narrator (i.e. the Gamemaster). Of course, the LN also gets to play as a PC, giving him the chance to act on both sides of the screen. One of the coolest things about this type of mechanic is that everyone gets a hand in driving the story forward, using the given framework, kind of like the ever-changing mentality of a super-villain who must react to the heroes and adjust his plans accordingly. To me, this makes for a much more dynamic game, which comic books always seem to be. They’re not as static as a pre-designed campaign where the characters drive the story, altering regular outcomes, but the overall movements of the one big-bad generally stays the same. In comic books, you’re always fighting the big-bad, and that really comes out in the Valiant Universe RPG.

I can’t wait until this comes out in print!

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