Episode 20 (Part 1) Golden Heroes RPG (with Simon Burley)


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INTRO: This is a game that embodies the spirit of the podcast. It belongs to a period when the players were informing the gaming industry. Games Workshop decided to do a big budget version of the game. You can see the short film I made here (it’s less than 5 minutes)

OPEN BOX (with Simon Burley): As the co-creator of the game, Simon shares the story of its ups and downs. You can find SQUADRON UK at Drive Thru by following the link.

JUDGE BLYTHY RULES: We examine the rules with our resident rules lawyer.

OUTRO: News of the latest Patreons. and the aims of the campaign.

Author: Dirk

Host of The GROGNARD RPG Files podcast. Talking bobbins about Runequest, Traveller, Call of Cthulhu, T&T, AD&D and others from back in the day and today.

25 thoughts on “Episode 20 (Part 1) Golden Heroes RPG (with Simon Burley)”

  1. I like what y’all said about the rules making a lot more sense once you played them. Simon Burley has said that Pete Haines was a warhame guy. I think this shows in how well the game is balanced. It has some tactical depth to it that not all RPGs have, and which may not be apparent at first blush. Sure, there will be some disparity in power levels, but the 4-frame turn structure, in and of itself, is an equalizer of sorts. There are many such examples in Golden Heroes.

    Slight correction: only some minor supervillains have 3 frames. Most super-powered beings have 4.

    I am a huge fan of this game. It does have its flaws, but most are common to games of the period. Despite its minor issues, it’s one of the best games ever.

  2. That was always the problem in the 70s, getting hold of the comics, like you say in the podcast, you’d find odd issues in seaside beach cafes on holiday, or in my home town there was a book stall in the market that used to have a random pile of them now and then.
    I can remember getting Black Panther, Conan and Invaders ones from there, but never more than one or two of anything.
    There’s a picture of a kid in a beret eating a giant piece of pizza in a Thing comic i remember to this day, just being amazed by the size of the slice of pizza, and it seemingly being the norm, cut back to your tiny new-fangled pizza from the local supermarket.
    And the Twinkies ads, yes, they just looked like the most amazing things. It was twenty more years until i got to New York in the mid 90s, seeking out a Twinkie, which took a while to find, bit into it and god was i disappointed!
    But i did get to stand outside the Marvel offices, very nondescript, no sign or anything, just a few superhero cutouts slipped down behind someones window desk a few floors up to tell that was the place. I’m guessing the ‘bullpen’ wasn’t actually full of artists day to day! But a treasured memory.
    I agree with the power thing, back then it did seem that to start powerful was somehow cheating, like rolling up a high level D&D character and starting with that (we were conditioned to start as a weedy farm boy (usually die as a weedy farmboy) but dream of one day achieving power), now it’s perhaps more about the gameplay possible as a result of your character being capable, rather than the slogging journey of achievement?
    Plus i suppose we’re less likely to abuse those powers now.
    In terms of tone i think superhero games benefit from a bit of knowing camp, after all it is a parallel world, tapping into that old Prisoner/Avengers vibe.
    Rebooting Marcus Rowland’s Strikeback was a case in point, the Illuminati/Frankenstein Castle/Nemo Submarine elements meshed seamlessly with the X Men/Heroes for Hire team-up involved, there was no jarring in tone.
    In the comics, for tone, personally i think the mid to late 70s Chris Claremont X Men and especially the Excalibur spin off with Captain Britain had it bang on, there’s a steady input of the wider world and popular, classical and folklore culture influences seeping in to the superhero world, busting it out of America, but all of it enhancing the whole, and staying FUN.

  3. So, as usual, it all comes down to White Dwarf – which is where of course, I saw the advert for ‘Golden Heroes’ and was immediately intrigued. Can’t remember if I waited for any reviews to appear before ordering it, but order it I did.

    I’d already dabbled with superhero games as I’d already bought and failed to run FGU’s ‘Villains and Vigilantes’ because (as I may have alluded to already on Twitter) I couldn’t get my head round the system – but mainly because it suggested that players play superpower enhanced versions of ‘themselves’, which meant rating the players on stuff like their intelligence and charisma – a surefire recipe for never-ending arguments amongst geeks as academic grades were cited to prove just how smart everyone was or wasn’t….(shudders at the memory).

    When I heard that a gamer acquaintance was already playing in a Golden Heroes campaign with another group, I jumped (over a tall building one might say) at the chance to play in that game.

    It was a fun and intriguing campaign and the GM – (shout out to Colin O’Neill, now a long term resident of Belgium, should he read this) had a few tricks up his sleeves which added to the intrigue and drama. One tactic was that none of the other players knew what each others powers were exactly – we only saw the in-game effects of them, and also being ignorant of the precise back stories of the Heroes we could only speculate as to what exactly everyone was capable of and what their motivations were.

    Already enjoying playing in a game and having had an excellent crash course in running it (I think it was Colin who alerted me to the existence of the great wee fanzine ‘SuperHero UK’ which was brilliant for scenario seeds and ideas) I was keen to try running it with my usual group.

    Thus were born a Glasgow based hero group which included such luminaries as HellChild, Sol, Meta-Man, The Sentinel and the unforgettably monikered Captain Caledonia.

    Listening to part 1 of the Golden Heroes episode I was quite surprised to hear Simon Burley reveal that the rule-set could possibly have been the official one for a Marvel Supers game. How different that would have been. For me, the unique charm of Golden Heroes – perhaps not in the rules themselves, but in the supporting scenarios and articles in White Dwarf (which am sure @DailyDwarf will cover) and in the pages of the aforementioned Superhero UK, was the encouragement given to the GM to run a campaign in the spirit of classic X-Men etc – but a campaign set firmly in the UK.

    Not only were PCs powerful – something of a novelty in itself for players of games where PCs often start off as relative weaklings in their respective worlds) – but how much more FUN (that word again !) to be involved in a super-scrap and tear up the streets of a city or town that you knew well, to have a local landmark threatened by an alien menace or werewolf outbreak, to interact with real politicians and TV stars (perhaps the sentiment that V&V had been aiming for) and to read about how journalists saw your exploits on the front pages of the Sun ?

    The players loved this – the player of Captain Caledonia wanted to emulate Christopher Reeve’s Superman, who in the second film, threw one of his enemies into an electronic ‘Coke’ sign – by punching a supervillain through the (much more modest !) electronic ‘Irn Bru’ sign that used to be above Glasgow’s Central Station !

    And part of the GM fun – suggested by a White Dwarf article am sure – was for me to mock up front pages of the ‘Sun’ etc showing the heroes fighting / not fighting (in one case a ‘Hero’ was ‘snapped’ ‘observing’ a fight from behind a chimney – a favourite tactic – and another was delighted – as you can imagine – to be pictured alongside Linda Lusardi and Sam Fox). Perhaps mercifully, those ‘newspaper reports’ look to be lost to the ages !

    I’ll use, with consideration, that word yet again, because its the best one for it – the game was a hell of lot of fun.

    Alas for ‘Golden Heroes’ , despite its excellence, the odds were stacked against it, probably for 2 reasons – Games Workshop for whatever motives, seemed to decide to drop it and the promised scenarios and supplements never appeared (how we keenly awaited that MegaVillains supplement that was destined to never arrive !). Secondly, comics themselves were changing – this was the age of the Dark Knight and Watchmen. When one of the players told me his character was hanging up the bright spandex costume for a trench-coat and fedora – presumably to be more ‘cool’ -the writing was on the wall.

    Bright, primary coloured, square jawed heroes were out – complex, ‘dark’ anti-heroes were ‘in’.

    And thus, as is the wont of gamers, enthusiasms and expectations waned and we moved on to other games (I think it was probably WFRP that next caught my eye back then)….

    But I will always look back with incredible fondness on Golden Heroes – it did what it did very well indeed, and not only that it produced a uniquely British flavoured supers experience (and it introduced me to a really good new gaming group to boot).

    Really looking forward to hearing the second part – but for now I must slip into that red telephone box and change into something much more suitable for kicking some supervillain arse 🙂

  4. I’ve been a life long fan of superheroes, my first introduction was Batman 30’s to the 70’s bought for me in 1973. I spent my childhood hunting for DC comics in newsagents and motorway service stations until I discovered comic shops in the 80’s. My first superhero game was Villains & Vigilantes, but when Golden Heroes arrived I swapped over. It’s got different rules for different things, there’s no skills system and it only has a limited list of powers, but of all the superhero games I’ve run, it just flows.

    The initiative system with actions and frames is simple but effective. The damage system is very comic booky. Especially the damage dividers – even the toughest of Heroes still takes damage and the best part is the character generation. Once you’ve done it a few times you can create characters in minutes, the power rolls allows for a random character but with some control, never bettered.

    I ran it a lot in the 80’s, the longest game was the Knight’s of Albion with Captain Albion, Starlight, Stormlord, the Lord of the Ancients and Captain Creda. I ran most of what was written for GH and also converted several Villains & Vigilantes scenarios (well worth a look for full 4 colour superhero games).

    The most memorable fight was the Knight’s fighting the Crushers in the Crusaders tower. Stormlord jumping through a wall to take out a weather controlling villain and catapulting Captain Albion out over London.

    Happy days. Would love to run it again.

  5. In the early run of Jamie Delano’s Hellblazer, the ‘Newcastle Incident’ was repeatedly hinted at, mentioned and trailed – it was an ever-present shadow over the narrative, a dark episode from John Constantine’s past, that cruelly haunted him into the present. When it was finally protrayed (issue 12 if I remember), it had a devastating impact.

    I think we’re at the same point now with the Grognard Files podcast, as we’re on the threshold of finally hearing Dirk’s ‘Golden Heroes Incident’. Prepare yourselves everyone, I think it’s going to be brutal.

  6. Really enjoyed the interview. I especially liked that £10 spent on paying a ‘business consultant’ to type up the original manuscript – i wish the many consultants i’ve paid over the years added that much value!

  7. Been running GH, SQUK and SQUK 2nd at Conventions for the last 6 years, I’ve run every scenario written including Lancelot Caper. i ran each one as straight as possible, some do descend into farce, but the bulk doesn’t.

    its a very enjoyable game

    1. I remember The Lancelot Caper being mentioned in White Dwarf as a ‘forthcoming’ supplement for Golden Heroes from Games Workshop back in the 80s – when was it finally published? Was it for SQUK in the end?

  8. There may be a day when I call an episode “below par” but today is not that day, another round of quality bobbins, nice interview and entertaining banter. Can’t wait for “the incident” to be told.

  9. I could never get into Marvel comics. Grew up with Judge Dredd, my view of what a Mutant was, was not the same as Marvel.

  10. I was going to add that when you did the game at ConVergence I really liked the character creation method of using a set amount of power points per player (I think it was eight) and then picking them from a card deck, this was a quick, fair, and easy way of doing this for a one-shot game, and was quite fu-, er, I mean, “enjoyable”.
    But I would suggest the following:
    1. Have players pick one card at a time in a round robin, so they have time to contemplate and consider their next choice.
    2. Mix in the Advantageous Backgrounds with the Superpowers.
    3. Don’t put picked cards back in the pack, I think it’s actually a bit boring having two characters with the same power or background, and it promotes teamwork and discourages metagaming.
    4. The pack should generally only have one card per superpower or background, but some of the popular ones could be replicated according to the random table, i.e. Agility, Armour, Energy Attack, etc.
    5. Some powers are double points, i.e. Magic, if picked the player should miss the next round.
    6. A player can, instead of picking a card, either improve an existing power or re-roll an ability.
    7. A player can refuse a second Advantageous Background, and can either pick again or as 6.
    8. There is no part 8.

  11. Interesting that Mr. Burley mentioned Avengers Annual #10 as one of the “slugfests” he reenacted at conventions. Last year, when I was preparing to begin our current GH campaign, I gave my brother-in-law a copy of that very same book, as an example of what I wanted our game to be like.

  12. Hi have only just started listening to your excellent podcast, thanks very much. I came to it looking for anything Golden Heroes related as I am hoping to run a few one shots to see how it goes. However I have a small problem, my copy of the Players book has a printing error in it. I’m missing pages 26 and 27 as well as 30 and 31. I’ve had the books since ’82 but at the time lived far enough away from Virgin games in Leeds to stop me getting it back to them. This may be cheeky and if so deliver the super strength upper cut I undoubtedly deserve, but I was wondering if it would be possible to send me a copy of the 4 pages. Or if that’s not possible and the pages relate to material in the Supervisors book, indicate where they might overlap I would be forever appreciative. Living in hope, Darryl Hunt

    1. Hi Darryl – if you contact me on Dirk the dice at gmail dot com I’ll sort it out over the weekend

  13. Many, many years ago, I stumbled upon a copy of White Dwarf in a newsagents. Duly bought it, took it home, and eagerly read every single page many times over. It was the most magical thing I’d ever read, and opened up a whole new world of possibilities. I’d had no idea that such a thing as RPG’s existed.

    So I started buying WD regularly, and either inserted an ad, or answered one seeking other players. My memory is a bit dim on the details. Anyhow, I was contacted by a guy who said they had a small group that met up regularly for AD&D sessions, and would I be interested? I surely was, and was lucky enough to get picked up and taken across to Northfield or Selly Oak (again, my failing memory) near B’ham every week, where the DM lived. And who was that DM? None other than Simon Burley.

    It turned out that the format comprised of alternating AD&D with Golden Heroes. I was very young, and completely in awe of Simon, who was a lovely chap. I couldn’t believe that I was lucky enough to be part of a group with the actual game’s author governing proceedings.

    The GH sessions were amazing, as he seldom needed to bury his head in the rule book, having penned the thing himself, consequently the game would run so fluidly. He was incredibly passionate about the whole thing. It really was his baby. I remember the whole group finding it quite hilarious that I’d gone the whole hog and bought the lead GH figurines too. I don’t think it was the done thing, and only managed to emphasise the noob in me.

    I didn’t last too long with the sessions due to my inexperience with RPG’s. I can’t remember whether they got fed up with my ineptitude, or I did. They had all been playing as a group for quite some time, and all of their characters had history together, and many campaigns behind them. They were also great at throwing themselves into character, whereas I was very timid, and reserved. Still have some very fond memories of those wonderful days though.

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