Review – Sentinel Comics The Roleplaying Game Starter Kit

Defeat the villains. Save the world. Protect the innocent. It’s classic superhero fare with the Sentinel Comics The Roleplaying Game (from Greater Than Games). With a full release aimed for Kickstarter in early 2019, the full game is proceeded by a Starter Kit, and this look at the game is based on that Starter Kit.

From a flavor perspective, the Sentinel Comics RPG is set in the eponymous world of Sentinel Comics. Sentinel Comics was first seen in the Sentinels of the Multiverse card game, and has since expanded to other game types. There have been a lot of expansions for Sentinels of the Multiverse, and continued worldbuilding beyond the game. So playing in the Sentinel Comics RPG will mean getting to drop the player characters into a fully formed world. However, let me note here that it is not a world that I’m particularly familiar with, so I’m not in a position to tell you something like how faithfully the Freedom Five and the villains are being depicted (I’ve played Sentinels of the Multiverse, but not enough to really know who the characters are).

Mechanically, the Sentinels RPG does a couple of distinctive things. The first is the three dice system. Whenever a character attempts an action that requires a roll, they roll one die based on their pertinent Power (something superhuman, including gear-based powers), one die based on the pertinent Quality (something learned through training), and one die based on the character’s status. Depending on the Power, Quality, or status at issue, each die will be somewhere from a d6 to a d12. When these dice are rolled, the middle value becomes the effect die – that’s going to tell you what the result of the action is. Obviously, bigger dice are better (note that the status die may get better or worse when the character takes damage, depending on the character).

A second distinctive element is the presence of the environment. In the original Sentinels of the Multiverse, there was a big focus on environment. The players were the heroes, each with their own deck. They worked cooperatively to defeat a common villain, who was also represented by a deck. But each of these battles took place in an environment, which was also represented by its own deck. In the Sentinel Comics RPG, the environment gets its own turn each round, and provides specified twists to the scene. Which twists the environment can apply depends on the scene tracker, which is a countdown mechanic driving the action forward (expect something bad to happen if it gets down all the way). Note that the scene tracker can also drive the hero’s abilities – the heroes’ status dice are based on their health or the scene tracker, whichever is doing worse.

So, what’s a twist? The primary source for twists is when the players succeed at an action, but not that well. Barely missing the complete success target means a minor twist, while falling short by a lot means a major twist (or an outright failure, player’s option). The possible effects of twists are limited only by the imagination, but will primarily be based on the Principles from the hero’s character sheet, from the environment, or from some standard options (e.g., take damage equal to the value on the highest die rolled).

There is a fairly short list of actions. The length of the action list, and the generally free-form descriptive nature of the fight scenes is reminiscent of many Powered by the Apocalypse games. However, there’s a lot more “crunch” and defined abilities in the Sentinel Comics RPG than in a PbtA game. With that said, the action list includes Attack (deal damage), Overcome (a very broad action that covers almost every effort to surpass some challenge in a way that isn’t dealing damage – this might be talking down an NPC, defusing a bomb, or stopping a car), Boost/Hinder (apply a bonus or penalty to someone’s next pertinent action), Defend, and Recover. There might also be a variety of Reactions available, depending on the circumstances.

There’s more detail in the starter kit, of course, but given the long lead between the release of the Starter Kit and the anticipated launch of the Kickstarter campaign, I wouldn’t be surprised if intervening public play of the Starter Kit will result in tweaks to the material anyway.

So, what exactly is in the starter kit? Well, you already saw about half of it:

The starter kit includes 13 booklets, plus the GM screen printed on the reverse side of the cardstock wrapper. One of the books is a gameplay guide, which is about 2/3 for everyone and about 1/3 for the GM. Then, as you can see above, there’s one “issue” for each hero (there is no character creation in the starter kit; the players control members of the iconic Freedom Five, or their former intern Unity). Each has a two-page character sheet, two more pages explaining the details of everything on that character sheet, and then a two-page hero reference about things like the different basic actions. In addition to descriptive elements, the character sheet includes the entries for background, power source, archetype, personality, two Principles (which provide roleplaying guidance and suggested major/minor twists), the characters’ Powers and Qualities, their status die values, and a healthy list of abilities divided by status zone.

But what about those other six booklets/issues? That’s a six-part adventure; quite a bit more than one typically gets in these starter kits. The first issue also serves as an overview for the GM and an introduction to the basic mechanics, so it isn’t a full-size outing, but still – more than the standard starting adventure. I’ll spare you the spoilers, but suffice it to say that there’s talking, investigating, and plenty of punching.

It may not have the same widespread name recognition as DC or Marvel, but the Sentinel Comics universe is lovingly crafted, and the Sentinel Comics RPG should give a distinctive new entry into an RPG genre that hasn’t seen much action on the somewhat “crunchy” end of the spectrum in the last few years.

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