Retro Gaming The 70s & 80s: DC Heroes Role Playing Game

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Households tend to gravitate to fan divisions. There are Star Trek people and Star Wars people. In New York City, you’re a Mets fan or a Yankees supporter. With comic books, divisions have fallen for decades between Marvel Comics and DC Comics with endless nerdy debates of the pros and cons for each.

In my home growing up, my brothers and I were Marvel guys. Our cardboard storage boxes were chocked full of bagged and boarded books from the Fantastic Four, The Avengers, Captain America, The Uncanny X-Men, Doctor Strange, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and Alpha Flight. The occasional Batman or Justice League story grabbed our interest, but superheroes who dwelled in the real-world embattled streets of New York City always won our hearts over the denizens of Gotham, Metropolis and Star City.

When we got around to superhero gaming we likewise threw our fandom (and dollars) behind TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes Role-Playing Game. While role-playing our favorite Marvel characters never took off with the passion we had for Dungeons & Dragons, we loved the modules and expanions chocked full of great art, stories and cut-out scenery and foldable heroes.

In 1985, a year after TSR’s comic-themed release, Mayfair Games answered with DC Heroes Role Playing Game. The game was released just as DC’s monumental Crisis On Infinite Earths series hit the comic racks garnering wide praise from long-time fans and the straight press alike. For a tepid DC fan like myself, Crisis was a crash course in DC lore and injected significant emotional realism to the character storylines mimicking much of what Marvel had been up to for a couple decades. The one-two punch of Crisis and the new game had me running to the store to add yet another RPG system to my shelf.

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Like the Marvel role-playing game, the DC system never became a big part of my gaming time but its mechanics had some merits which retain a significant fan base to this day. At its root, the game used a unified “attributes points” design from which all manner of super powers, skills, wealth, time and distance variables could be calculated. Within this single framework, the game could contextually handle normal human characters such as Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen side-by-side with epic heroes like Superman and Shazam.

Similar to TSR’s Marvel game, Mayfair’s DC game box came with a group of manuals for the players and gamemaster as well as a gamemaster’s screen, starter character cards and a manual of powers and skills. While the primary color design was more spare, the DC game’s mechanics and information offered a quicker start than wading through the uneven and occassionally frustrating complexities of the Marvel game.

Despite the surface comic book character interest in the DC game and the earlier Marvel one, my interest in superhero gaming waned pretty quickly. With positives and negatives to each RPG super hero system, what I always walked away with was a feeling of constraint within the boundaries of massive established narrative comic universes. While both games offered rules for creating new characters and scenarios (more effectively in the DC one), my mind inevitably drifted back to known caharacters and storylines I couldn’t imagine breaking into new realms and threads. With plenty of more satisfying fantasy RPG and historical miniature gaming options available to me, one thing I could always reconcile about Marvel and DC alike was that I preferred my comic heroes on the page rather than the tabletop.

Collector’s Note: Mayfair’s DC Heroes Role Playing Game and its expansion modules can be easily found online in the non-heroic $10-30 price range at eBay and elsewhere.

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4 thoughts on “Retro Gaming The 70s & 80s: DC Heroes Role Playing Game

  1. great article! Interesting to note that Mayfair Games later sold it’s DC Heroes RPG system to Pulsar Games, who then dropped the DC characters and just called it ‘Blood of Heroes’.

    • Great blog and angle on this game. One thing I didn’t touch on was how the art declined a but in quality from the first edition to the second one. DC and Mayfair obviously remained committed to the game with dozens of expansions (the one for the Watchmen is great) yet quality varied greatly. I think the 80s in general was hard for comics still trying to break out of the hardcore fan collector community. All that is obviously different today with the endless box office embrace of the heroes of our youth…

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