IN SHORT… I had the pleasure of being invited to a session of VersuS, which is in the late stage of design and independent publication by Alexandre Joly (a.k.a. MagnaMagister), a passionate game designer based in France. The game is premised upon a world full of “supers” since the dawn of times — with heroes having very questionable morals and pursuing highly intricate personal agendas, and villains being organized to keep the heroes in check.
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4-hour game, 4 players (including me), hybrid set-up with the GM and 3 players in-person, and me on Discord voice. Unfortunately, given schedules and time difference, I can’t be part of a long-term campaign. But the one-session experience was great to get a flavor of the world and mechanics.
I’m not going to do justice to the massive amount of background and history that Alexandre has put into this.
In a nutshell: imagine a world of heroes and villains in which, a few decades ago, the heroes managed to decimate the villains. Imagine what happens next: a world of heroes without any opposition, conspiring against each other, pursuing relentlessly the most petty crimes, and generally causing global chaos. VersuS was founded to remedy this problem. This highly structured (and somewhat bureaucratic) corporation employs remaining villains and former heroes to organize crimes and ploys that keep heroes busy under a monthly budget of chaos and mayhem. VersuS organizes itself with teams of “field agents”, dealing with heroes day-to-day; and teams of “regulators”, supervising the field villains and fixing breaches in protocols. However, beside this well-oiled process, some very powerful supers still seem to be conspiring against each other, and against VersuS, for world domination…
- Psynapse (me) — an older, beat up psychic hero from the 70s who loves applying rules and policy during the day, and relaxing with a spliff and shots of vodka after hours
- Jack Rabbit — a giant rabbit (literally) from a dimension of anthropomorphic animals who tends to try and hit on all women he crosses
- Time Crash — a serious and analytical hybrid man-machine with the ability to warp time
- Selene — a magnetic and powerful sorceress, under high surveillance by VersuS (and what better way to watch her than employ her?)
In this session, the group or regulators arrives in London to take over supervision of the VersuS bureau for UK / Europe. While Time Crash follows some lead about the mysterious “Perfect Crime Society”, the rest of the group gets comfortable in their new headquarters and starts reviewing files of potential field agents to get the work started in London. After a debrief with the former head of VersuS in the city — who seems incompetent and is demoted to field agent — the group picks enough villains to form two teams of operatives.
A group of powerful white druidic powerful magicians make first contact to understand how VersuS is going to position itself with respect to some power struggle in the UK in the context of intense feuds between ancient and formidable supers.
The group is interrupted with news of riots in France — started after a vigilante kills a small time criminal — and has to deal with that situation. Managing to warp one day back in time, the group interrupts the crime before it is committed, preventing any victim or casualty, and rewires a bit the mind of the vigilante to cool her down going forward.
For some reason I had a really fun time playing through the “HR” aspect of the taking over of London. My character, Psynapse, whom I envision as a “work hard / play hard” and no-nonsense kind of guy, starts by working with his colleagues constructively as they all listen carefully to the individual issues of the candidates for field positions (the former leader of the bureau who is devastated to be demoted, a former minion who desperately wants to become a respected villain, a psychic candidate with a power of questionable utility, etc.). Then quickly, he decides to just go “straight to business” — controlling the emotions of the various NPCs to get the HR process go a bit faster, recusing some supers who seem completely unstable, and imposing “trial periods” to some supers whose powers don’t seem quite up to snuff.
I really enjoyed this idea of supervillains in regulator roles, going through this administrative and quasi-bureaucratic function to establish the right structure to enforce order around hero activities.
The system that Alexandre pulled together takes from the type of rich mechanical systems that he enjoys. It is based on rolling dice based on attributes and power, with re-rolls depending on competency, and poker-like combinations yielding super-linear outcomes. E.g., if you roll 3 4s, you get an effect of 20. If you roll 6 6s, you get an effect of 300.
The supers are very human in some ways (rolling say 3 dice with no re-rolls), and very superhuman in other ways (rolling say 6 dice with 5 re-rolls). It makes for very few rolls during a long game, only when it really matters, and the outcome is a bit swingy, but around a general landing zone that only depends on the number of dice.
It results in a cool X-Men vibe, with supers having 1-2 powerful things that they are incredibly good at, and the outcome of the action highly dependent on high stake decisions by the players on what to do and in what order.