Kickstarter Preview – Capes & Crooks: A 5e Superhero RPG

A superhero RPG based on the 5e rules from D&D.

This review has been sponsored by the publisher. Find more reviews on my website and YouTube channel.

Support my work by using affiliate links for shopping and pledging via Patreon.

Designed by: Justin Handlin, Crit Academy

I have fond memories of superhero MMOs and RPGs in the 2000s that let me run wild with character creation, such as City of Heroes, Champions Online, and Freedom Force. Re-creating my favorite heroes was one thing, but I also draw endless enjoyment from designing my own unique heroes.

Given the excellent character creator in Capes & Crooks, I was able to bring many of my beloved hero creations to life in this tabletop RPG built upon the 5e open gaming license.

This Kickstarter Review is based on pre-release playtest material.

What’s included in the final Capes & Crooks book:

  • 10 Origins (races)
  • 10 Roles (classes)
  • 10 Alter Egos (backgrounds)
  • 75 at-will powers
  • 100 super powers
  • 25 signature powers
  • 75 enhancements (feats)
  • 50 NPCs
  • Two adventures
  • Maps, character sheets, and pre-gen characters

The final book will run about 350 pages, but for the purposes of this review, I was given a pre-release rulebook of about 100 pages that was used as playtest material. This pre-release version lacks art, maps, and character sheets, and doesn’t include either adventure (the picture below is from the free 16 page sampler available on the Kickstarter page).

What it does include is all the rules from the 5e standard rules document, as well as all of the origins, roles, and powers to create your own custom deviant.

For character creation, every player chooses an origin, a role, an alter-ego, and a number of powers and enhancements.

Origins check all the boxes to include mutants, experiments, animal-hybrids, androids, and just super well-trained people, with each origin adding to ability scores and an extra trait or two.

Roles are your character classes, and include a few obvious 1:1 analogies to D&D, such as the crime fighter (fighter) and speedster (monk) as well as more creative and interesting ideas, like the drone-using gadgeteer, the telekinetic mystic, and the teleporting jumper.

Though each role has its own abilities, roles are far more malleable than D&D since everyone in Capes & Crooks shares the same progression, based on the Warlock from D&D 5e. Essentially everyone is a short-rest spellcaster, using at-will powers and power slots instead of cantrips and spell slots. It’s a simple but smart method of transforming D&D classes into superhero archetypes.

capes and crooks powers

At first level, every character regardless of role picks two at-will powers from a huge list of 75 powers, which cover everything from elemental blasts to tactical planning, cybernetics, and martial attacks.  I was very impressed with the variety of abilities, and even more so by how they all scale up in level, unlocking new features and abilities at levels 5, 11, and 17.

For example, the Solar Ray at-will power deals 1d8 radiant damage if the target fails a DEX save. It’s the exact same as Sacred Flame. Many of the powers are directly lifted from spells in D&D 5e, and easily re-themed as cybersuit deployments or other sources.

However, in D&D Sacred Flame simple dealt more damage at certain levels. In Capes & Crooks, it has additional effects: at level 5 it lowers the target’s AC by d4; at level 11 it deals half damage when the target makes the save, and at level 17 you unlock an entirely new ability to call down a damaging and blinding pillar of light. Heck yeah!

Powers are your traditional D&D spells, with some added new powers to reflect cyber and martial skills. Like the Warlock you know very few powers and limited to only a handful of slots, but they recharge on a short rest, essentially turning them into once-per-encounter abilities, which feels decently balanced for superheroes.

These powers range from 1st to 4th level, such as Barkskin, Charm Person, Conjure Animals, Lightning Bolt, Homing Missiles, Sentry Turret, and Web. Power slots automatically level up, maxing out at 5th level.

For the more powerful stuff, you’ll need access to Signature Powers, beginning at level 11. Signature Powers replace the Mystic Arcanum from the Warlock, and act as once-per-day super abilities.

At least I think that’s how they’re supposed to work, the rules behind Signature Powers were lacking in information. The hero progression table lists them from 6th to 9th level, but the powers themselves don’t have any levels or prerequisites (nor level scaling), and many are 9th level spells from D&D such as Meteor Swarm and Foresight. That’s a huge power upgrade at level 11!

Finally there’s enhancements. Unlike the Warlock’s invocations, enhancements are actually more like feats from D&D 5e, but added directly into hero progression starting at level 1. Enhancements do a great job of rebalancing feats from D&D, as well as pulling traits and features from other classes, such as Cunning Action, Brutal Critical, and Extra Attack. Yes, Extra Attack is an Enhancement, meaning any deviant can take it, regardless of their role and powers!

I also love the change to underused skill-based feats. The skill-based enhancements, such as Actor, now grant two skill proficiences as well as bestowing 3 adept points that can be spent to roll a d6 to add when using those skills.

Based on the character creation rules alone, I’m very excited about Capes & Crooks. I played around and was able to effectively create three of my custom heroes from over a decade ago, and it’s made me excited to rediscover my love of superhero RPGs all over again:

  • Tombstone, the undead crime fighter with gun-slinging powers and the marksman fighting style enhancement.
  • Depth Charge, the freak accident elemental controller (water) with force and telekinetic powers and the amphibious enhancement to reflect his mastery over the crushing depths of the ocean.
  • K-9, beastman gadgeteer (or exosuit) with cybernetic and tech powers, and the integrated weapon armaments to manifest some awesome cybersword or claws. Why yes, he is a combination werewolf-Predator and super soldier from the future, and yes, below is a screenshot from 2009’s Champions Online.

screenshot_2009-08-24-22-27-59

Pros:

  • 10 origins, 10 roles, dozens of enhancements, and over 200 powers to craft your perfect superhero.
  • Several new role ideas unique to Capes & Crooks, such as the drone-using Gadgeteer and teleporting Jumper.
  • At-will powers scale as you level, adding additional effects along with increased damage.
  • Enhancements are smartly rebalanced feats from D&D, and better integrated in hero advancement.

Cons:

  • Confusion on how Signature Powers work.
  • Alter Egos is a missed opportunity to improve the Backgrounds from D&D 5e. Plus — not every hero has an alter ego!

The Verdict: By utilizing 5e’s Warlock as a baseline, rebalancing feats as enhancements, and offering dozens of powers to mix and match, Capes & Crooks creates an effective superhero character builder, and the critical foundation for a worthy superhero tabletop RPG.

This review has been sponsored by the publisher Find more reviews on my website and YouTube channel.

Support my work by using affiliate links for shopping and pledging via Patreon.

Author: roguewatson

Freelance Writer

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