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The Ultimate Powers Book (1986)

From the back cover of The Ultimate Powers Book (1986): “Two-hundred and ninety-three powers times five ranges times eighteen power lives equals—26,370 discrete powers!” Now, TSR products, particularly for the Marvel Super Heroes line, are prone to exaggerating, and it is true that the claim of nearly 27,000 discrete powers is a bit much, but that doesn’t really diminish the monstrous utility of the book.

The core box for Marvel Super Heroes didn’t have character creation at all. The idea was that players would just take the roles of established Marvel characters. The Advanced box introduced character creation, but the list of powers was limited and the system generally produced characters that were underpowered compared to those from the comics. Ultimate Powers hopes to change that, with a brand new creation system that aims to be flexible enough to create characters from the cosmic level on down to regular folks. It builds off a robust pool of “form” templates — cyborg, induced mutant, demon, etc — and then builds up, next with the origin of powers, abilities, weaknesses, the actual powers (arranged by type) and so on. The powers themselves allow for a good amount of detail and fine tuning — not so much as Champions, but enough to feel bespoke.

Its rare, I think, for this kind of sourcebook to totally transform its game, but that is exactly what Ultimate Powers does — playing these characters is its own sort of experience, different from the basic or advanced game. Not bad for a 96-page book! Well, a 96-page book with three columns, small text and no pictures. Dense!

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