What Do I Know About Reviews? The Guise Book (Sentinel Comics The Roleplaying Game)
Many times, when an RPG product line launches, it’s easy to plot the trajectory of product releases. The core rulebook may be followed by a more in depth book about game facilitation. There may be a book highlighting more adversaries in an action oriented game. But then, sometimes, there are surprises.
The first supplement released for the Sentinel Comics RPG is one such surprise. If you haven’t heard of the Sentinel Comics line, it all started with a cooperative card game where players have decks based on different heroes, playing against a villain deck. This has expanded into video games, miniatures games, and eventually a roleplaying game line.
Most of the Sentinel Comics RPG line maintains a more Silver Age/Bronze Age sensibility, with all of the hero and villain archetypes that come with that assumption. Guise, on the other hand, is that style of character that knows they are in a comic book. In this case, probably a bit more Ambush Bug than Deadpool, with powers that went from Plastic Man, to the current era, which is more Plastic Man with a dash of Firestorm.
The Guise Book is the first major supplement to the Sentinel Comics RPG (not counting some individual adventure issues that have been released), and it not only focuses on Guise and characters that are related to the character, but the book itself has a secondary theme of using humor in superhero RPGs.
I was not provided a review copy of this book. I was a Kickstarter backer for the RPG, and I picked this product up on my own. I have not had the opportunity to use the material in this book, but I have run a short campaign of the Sentinel Comics RPG.
The Guise Book
Sentinel Comics The Roleplaying Game System Designers and Developers: Christopher Badell, Cam Banks, Dave Chalker, Philippe-Antoine Ménard
Creators of Sentinel Comics: Christopher Badell, Adam Rebottaro
Lead Rules Designer: Dave Chalker
Writers: Christopher Badell, Banana Chan, Laser Malena-Webber, Richard Malena-Webber
Copy Editors and Proofreaders: Christopher Badell, Jennifer Closson
IP Management: Christopher Badell
Creative Direction: Jennifer Closson
Graphic Design: Jennifer Closson
The Guise Book is 120 pages long, and in full, bright, comic book color. There are lots of illustrations throughout the book portraying the various characters presented. The book itself contains endpapers on both sides of the book, a title page, a credits page, a single page “index,” and four pages of blank pages designated for notes. The “index” is a gag in that Guise only allowed the editors to list one word for each letter of the alphabet.
Each chapter starts with a two page spread of artwork. There are a few items repeated, such as the stat blocks for three villains, because they are included in an adventure, and repeated in the adversaries’ section.
The book opens with a section discussing the use of humor in roleplaying games, touching on several techniques that can be used to run a humorous game. This includes a discussion on the “formula” of a comedic storytelling exercise, and practicing specific beats rather than trying to just come up with humorous material.
There is also a discussion on adding in characters with obvious personality traits that you can draw on and play off, as well as tropes to avoid for the safety and respect of marginalized people. This includes a focus on using comedy to punch up, rather than punching down and making fun of those that are already marginalized.
There are two adventures included in this product. While there are stats for Guise in this book for use as a player character, both of the adventures in question are framed as using Guise as an NPC, although the first adventure allows for the option of playing Guise along with a party of other superheroes.
Between the two adventures, characters are introduced to several of Guise’s standard villains. One is the cosmic entity known as Wager Master (the Sentinel Comics version of Mxyzptlk or the Impossible Man), and the other three are more down to earth, comedically themed villains.
The first adventure involves the heroes being thrown into an alternate reality version of Camelot to prove to Wager Master that he shouldn’t wipe out humanity, and in addition to bargaining with Morgana and fighting Mordred on a dragon, it also involves attending a local medieval themed amusement attraction where people joust and sell souvenirs.
The second adventure involves Guise imploring the PCs to gather several items of cosmic importance, and running into three of his villains. The PCs can easily end up looking bad in the public eye depending on how these resolve, and one of the encounters is more about coaching a villain through a stressful life event than fighting.
Both of these adventures are fun, but wow, would I not run these back to back, or even run these without warning the players that these are some pretty heavy handed scenarios. Many of the Sentinel Comics RPG adventures assume that your characters are more reactive than proactive, but between the disguised characters and false ending of the first adventure, and the arbitrary true nature of the mission Guise sends the PCs on in the second adventure, you could end up with some irate players if you don’t communicate the tone and style of these adventures up front.
This section of the book presents Guise and other characters featured in his comic series (the fictional one that he knows he’s in) in player character format, as well as presenting a selection of villains, lieutenants, and minions.
Guise himself appears in the book in three different forms. There is standard “official” version, a version themed for inclusion in the Camelot adventure, where he flavors all of his powers and abilities in context of his surroundings, and the final version of Guise is a version that is basically a meta-narrative of himself where he’s much more well respected and in control of everything going on around him.
The other heroes include:
- Guise-Cat (literally Guise’s cat that is written up in hero format)
- Pool Shark (a hustler running away from his past, making a new start as a hero)
- Postal (a postal worker that accidentally ended up with a cosmically enhanced bag)
- Hedge Lord (a dimensionally displaced hero from a world where plants are sentient tyrants)
- CasaNova (a cosmic entity exemplifying harmony and rock and roll)
The primary villains included in this section are:
- Wager Master
- Green Grosser (a plant hating human that has merged to become part plant)
- Cueball (a villain with a pool themed high tech battle suit)
- Judge Mental (an overzealous former barrister that can manifest executioners and control jurors)
- Power Creep (what if Carnage never bonded with anyone, just ate people and mutated?)
- Nega-Guise (a metal skinned, very serious shapeshifter that hates Guise in particular)
- The She-Nanigans
- Dinah-Dozen (who can split into different versions of herself, each themed on an emotion)
- Concealin’ Carrie (who can make herself and other things invisible)
- Poly Hedron (who combines math, geometry, and magic)
In addition, there are minions representing Green Grosser’s fruit, Judge Mental’s jurors and executioners, remnants of Power Creep, the minor villain Major Twist (who, in a very meta way, can show up as a major twist whenever one is called for in the game), and a lesser plant villain from Hedge Lord’s world who is working with Green Grosser.
In addition to these characters, Guise’s Apartment is given stats as a location in the game, meaning there are suggested major and minor twists themed for the apartment that can be used at different times in an action scene.
I’ll admit, I have an easier time using comedic NPCs in a game than making comedy a recurring theme. I like a lot of these characters, and they make for good “pressure valves” to show up in the middle of more serious issues. A lot of the comically themed villains are about on par with characters like Flash’s Rogues Gallery, which makes them a good “fight this villain while a bigger villain plot is unfolding” option.
This is an extremely easy RPG book to digest. Once you know the system, it makes a lot of sense to see how scenes are structured and how adventures progress. There are also some great examples of how you can play with advancing threat counters or determining characters that get targeted in a scene (I loved the trigger where the dogs focus on the best smelling character). The characters in the archives are great drop in characters.
If the purpose of the book’s opening is to provide tools not just for running comedic adventures, or adding comedic elements, but running comedy series, I’m not sure it provides quite enough information. I like both of the adventures, but I would definitely use them sparingly, as capstones to more serious ongoing storylines that have just been resolved.
Qualified Recommendation–A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.
If you are already a fan of the Sentinel Comics universe, I doubt you will be disappointed with this purchase, but if you are still acclimating to the setting, you may need some more exposure to Guise before this feels more endearing.
The light-hearted villains are a good addition to the repertoire of characters that a GM can draw from, but since this is the first supplement to the game, you may want a few more “standard” threats to fill out that toolbox before going for the less serious silver age style enemies.
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