Storytelling, Tabletop and Pop Culture
For many folks in the 40 and under crowd it's hard to point to something so pop culture formative as Power Rangers (and its Super Sentai forebearers). Brightly colored costumes in a rainbow of colors. Cool weapons and giant robots and martial arts and monsters. It really highlighted a part of the American media market that is still hugely popular to this day. In fact many of today’s tabletop roleplayers had their first taste of roleplaying on the school playground jumping, kicking and firing power blasters at imaginary monsters.
So it’s no surprise that Power Rangers has been a frequent target for homebrew and homages in the TTRPG space. And now finally we have an officially licensed Power Rangers RPG system from Renegade Game Studios. Not just a setting book but the premiere of an entirely new TTRPG system developed by Renegade for Power Rangers and their upcoming Transformers and G.I. Joe systems.
I’ve spent the last week or so trawling through the hefty 262 page pdf of the core rulebook trying to get a feel for what exactly this system is. Does it capture that Power Rangers flair? Is it mechanically unique? Is it easy to learn? Let’s dig right into the major points.
First up is the Essence20 dice system, the biggest point of divergence from 5th edition D&D. D20’s are still central to the system but flat bonuses are replaced with a secondary skill die that gets rolled and added. Specialization in a skill allows you to roll your skill die and all lower dice and take the best result but only when used for a narrower area of emphasis. So instead of a d20 + d10 for the overall skill Finesse, a Specialization in Stealth would be a d20 + the highest roll of d10, d8, d6, d4 & d2. Bonuses and penalties (renamed Shifts) move the dice size up and down while Edges and Flaws rename Advantage/Disadvantage respectively. This results in a much more swingy system where big wins are possible but a basement score of 2 is also possible. A slightly different feel but with enough familiarity to be easily captured by anyone used to current d20 systems.
I think the extra swinginess of an additional die instead of flat modifiers also pairs nicely with the Story Point system, a pool of shared tokens that allow the rangers or the GM to tweak dice rolls and events as they happen. Like the Savage World’s bennies or Kids on Brooms’s Adversity Tokens, these points are given at the top of big scenes, as consolation for failures and to reward big plays. So even though the system has more play in it, all players have a chance to lock in for an important roll.
Power Rangers RPG has opted for a relatively deep system of customization, with a multitude of choice points for each character. A new character is going to have in excess of 20 items to assign just at character creation and something like 50 more over the character’s full progression.
This very granular customization system will feel very reminiscent to players of D&D 3.5, Pathfinder 1E or especially Pathfinder 2E. Each Ranger chooses an Origin (their sort of civilian archetype), their Role (the 6 MMPR colors by default which provides your 20 level class progression) and Influences that tweak and add additional skills, stats and abilities. The overall feel for these first three choices is going to be almost identical to the Race (Ancestry or Lineage)/Class/Background that kicks off Pathfinder or D&D.
The 6 classic ability scores have been streamlined down to 4 Essence Scores, Strength, Speed, Smarts and Social (It’s not clear if these will be identical in all of the Essence20 systems or shift for each setting). Rather than existing as a semi-independent modifier, each point in an Essence score is also a skill point to improve or specialize a skill in that category. So a point in Strength will also need to be applied to one of Athletics, Brawn, Conditioning, Intimidation, or Might. These increases raise the associated skill dice by a size (d2 to d4 to d6 etc) or allow you to Specialize into an even narrower category such as Might: Martial Arts.
I do enjoy the skill and stat system being interconnected but this is also an immediate point of intimidation for a new player. At first level a character is gaining a huge number of skills, both in a package from their Origin and a handful of semi-flexible assignments from their 1st level of their Role.
The Roles (visibly modeled after D&D classes) are perhaps a bit too overly devoted to the OG MMPR line up. The roles are clearly tailored to the Jason, Trini, Zach, Billy, Kimberly and Tommy version of the 6 colors. They’re also perhaps a bit too archetypally similar to familiar D&D classes. The Black Ranger shares their primary mechanic with Bards, the Green Ranger serves as a Rogue, the Pink Ranger a Ranger etc. The layering of Grid Powers, Perks and Zord features allow for some flexibility within these archetypes but the core of the character’s combat abilities will be set by their Role.
I wonder if maybe they couldn’t have been a bit more daring in designing the roles. For diverging so strongly in other places, many of the roles feel like almost 1 to 1 translations of big D&D class features (Infusions, Sneak Attack, Bardic Inspiration, Flurry of Blows). And maybe it helps convey the “Everyone is a Ranger” vibe but the front/backloading of unique class features means that at most levels Rangers don’t gain a role unique ability.
In these long gaps between Role abilities, Rangers will get a staggering array of customization options. Perks allow you to customize various skills with small bonuses and new uses. Grid Powers specifically allow each Ranger to customize their unique transformed ability set. Zord Powers provide a similar mechanism for the Zords. And they’re all doled out at regular intervals as the Rangers level.
Across the 3 categories there are a lot of choices to be made and even multiple rangers of the same color and role could end up wildly different in play. Parties will almost definitely want to work through these choices together since overlapping options could also make the party too specialized.
The Zord system is…unique. The Power Rangers flavor is certainly there including the mechanical and moral limitations on Zord uses. But the 3-6 rounds of summoning time immediately implies a very very long scale of fights. It looks like players should anticipate multi-session battles that could easily run 20 or more rounds (quite a contrast from 5E’s 3 round average). I’m also not sure that they’ve really provided the best system for interacting between the various scales of play. With fights that can be happening simultaneously at individual scale and Zord scale (or even larger, there are ELEVEN size categories), there is a complex system of managing multi-size movement and attacks that feels like it could land clunky in real play.
I’m just not sure this system does enough to distinguish itself from 5th edition. Which might not be a fair comparison except that Hasbro owns both Wizards of the Coast (and the D&D system) as well as Power Rangers. So the choice to create an entirely new system was a very intentional one.
That is a bit of an advantage though, if a somewhat roundabout one. A table that knows 5E or Pathfinder 2E (or especially both) will pick this system up very quickly. A short explanation of changed terminology would get veteran players up and running fairly quickly on the system itself.
On the flip side, this is a hugely crunchy game. If you love fiddling with a ton of different class options and feats and skills and items you will love this. If you aren’t up for that this might not be the best system for you. I’m just eyeballing it here but I would anticipate a first PR character easily taking 1-2 hours to build (much more if you are mapping out any future level ups). Every character is going to have stats, roles, influences, skills, perks, grid powers, zord powers, megazord powers and special equipment.
A character creator or well formula’d excel sheet will be a game changer here. There are just so many things to keep track of and all of them layer together. As it is, this game is really made for an incredibly narrow band of people. Dedicated adult fans of the first 10 years or so of Power Rangers who also love slow and intricate character creation and very very long combats. Some automation in character creation/management would help players get over the hurdles and get into the game faster without sacrificing the inner 5 year old joy of creating your own unique ranger.
So here’s the TLDR. This game is very crunchy. For good and bad. This is probably not a game for children, for folks who haven’t played TTRPG’s before or for anyone who doesn’t want to invest deeply in learning a new system.
However, with that being said this is a fantastic Power Rangers simulator. Everything you want to be here is here (and probably too much of it). You can live out that exact long held childhood fantasy of building a Ranger in every detail and then letting them loose into a Power Rangers world. You can smash monsters and unlock ever cooler abilities and equipment while you save the world from evil. You can design robots that combines into even bigger robots and fight even bigger monsters through a sprawling cityscape. For the table that is willing to conquer the system there is something very very cool awaiting them.
If I had 5 friends who were of the exact same mindset I'd definitely be running some of this but it feels like a difficult sell for tables of varying experience levels, play styles and Power Rangers fandom.
(As a side note, I don’t know if this will be true of the final print but my pdf copy downloaded directly from Renegade has somewhat fuzzy low resolution images. A lot of the best art is also pulled directly from the excellent comics. On the one hand this creates an excellent shared aesthetic between the properties but, taken with the fuzziness of the images, makes me feel like I’m looking at a very high quality fan creation rather than an officially licensed product. Hopefully this gets updated and/or the print copy is sharper.)
So what are your thoughts on the Power Rangers RPG? Have you gotten to give it a test run at your table? I'd love to hear what you think of it!
Hi! I'm Colby. DM, Nerd, IRL Cleric and Writer.