Recently, I've dived into both the GI Joe and Power Rangers Roleplaying Game. Both use Renegade Game Studios' brand new Essence20 TTRPG system. Overall, Power Rangers had some problems but had a strong foundation, whereas GI Joe made me a fan of the property.
But one of the biggest appeals of having these RPGs all running on the same system is that characters, concepts, and mechanics are compatible with one another. Since the TTRPGs coming out for this system all are based on highly toyetic properties, it did excite the brain of my inner child. How cool would it be to have the color-coded teenagers with attitude fight alongside heroes that fight for freedom over land, sea, and air? What kind of challenges would they face together?
How To Use Essence20 To Make The Perfect GI Joe Power Rangers Crossover – Storytelling
Right out of the gate, putting both the Power Rangers and GI Joe series together seems absurd. The former is a campy, at times abundantly silly, mishmash of repurposed Japanese tokusatsu footage with American teenage drama. The latter is a 1980s saturday morning cartoon with jetpacks, different colored lasers, tons of vehicles and accessories.
But here's the thing: they're not completely incompatible with one another. While Power Rangers did start off campy and silly, the live-action superhero series has matured and evolved over the years with compelling characters and genuinely great story arcs. Many recent shows have done a great job tackling complex subject matter and the Boom! Studios comics have done a great job adding grand cosmic stakes.
GI Joe is no different. While it started out as a show promoting a toyline, those very shows still told compelling spy thriller stories about doomsday devices and world-ending threats. There is even an IDW comic book run that takes the series into a more serious direction. No matter what kind of approach you have to either of these properties, you have resources and inspiration to draw from.
Boiled down to the bone, these two different organizations bear similar dynamics to those found in superhero comics. The Power Rangers in this case are The Avengers. They are all about stopping big problems with their larger than life gifts. GI Joe would be SHIELD: those that hold their own in these epic struggles with the aid of a support network, gadgets, and a lot of hot-blooded grit.
Both are inspirational in their own right, and when put together it can lead to many great dynamics. What happens if the Joes come up against a giant monster created to fight the Rangers? How do the Rangers cope when taken out of the comfort zone of their hometown to fight Cobra? How will the Rangers' Megazord faire against an entire fleet of Cobra vehicles? How do the Joes react and plan for aliens or demons from another world?
How To Use Essence20 To Make The Perfect GI Joe Power Rangers Crossover – Player Strengths
There are a few technical differences between GI Joe and Power Rangers in Essence20. Power Rangers are extremely mobile and versatile. Their jumping range is tripled when morphed, allowing them to quickly get to elevated areas and cross gaps. They can obtain Grid Powers, which can give them a wide variety of abilities like healing people or being able to punch through reinforced armor with their bare hands. Furthermore, all Rangers are inherently trained in martial arts, allowing them to attack multiple times for reliable stacks of damage. When they close the distance, they will hit hard.
But their defensive options aren't as robust. In addition to having basic armor protection in their morphed form, Rangers don't have as much starting health. As part of my crossover campaign, a level 5 Red Ranger had 3 HP on average, whereas a level 5 Vanguard Joe had 5 health on average. My players actually called this out as a serious problem in terms of balance.
But here's the rub: when a Ranger hits 0 health from an attack in an Essence20 game, they can just come back to 1 HP and simply de-morph for the rest of the scene. There is no upper limit to how much damage this constitutes. This effectively means that a Ranger can “tank” an attack that would otherwise vaporize a Joe and still keep going.
On the other side of the fence, the Joes are far more technical. In addition to their weapons having many different traits, they have a lot more variety with armor traits. Ghillie suits, camoflage, reinforced anti-personnel padding, the list goes on. Furthermore, they can requisition kits which can further enhance their own dedicated skills.
But what offsets all of these situational bonuses are two things. The first is mobility. A lot of the Joes' more powerful weapons have the Reload trait, which forces them to forgo movement in order to attack with that weapon again. This can be devastating if they are tripped or are hit with overlapping stacks of Stun. In an encounter where enemies are entrenched in cover with long-range weapons and artillery, that can be a death sentence.
Second, unless you are specialized into heavy artillery, the Joes' damage output isn't as impressive. In a way, all of that prep work and set up is to make every shot count. But even with all of the stat boosts available, it is still entirely possible to roll terrible and have all of that prep go to waste.
This same ethos applies to the larger scale vehicle and Megazord battles. Both Joe and Cobra vehicles have additional maneuvers as well as additional attacks: essentially death of a thousand cuts. Meanwhile, the Zords have a built-in auto pilot and scale in power with their Ranger team. One is a killer swarm, the other is a wrecking ball.
How To Use Essence20 To Make The Perfect GI Joe Power Rangers Crossover – Threats and Challenges
Of course, if you're going to have heroes show up, their villains aren't too far behind. This is where things become especially interesting in an Essence20 crossover campaign.
First, we'll start with Cobra and their High Command. Much like the Joes, Cobra's overall damage with their weapons are low, focusing more on commanding teams of troopers and overlapping fire to even the odds. But on top of that, various characters like Baronness or Cobra Commander can perform attacks using Free Actions. Considering their Speed scores allow them upwards of ten Free Actions per turn, that is devastating. The action economy is already in their favor, lean into that further with Cobra Troopers. As for their defenses, much like the Joes, they have advanced armor with multiple traits that protect them. Think of these traits as a tactical puzzle for the team to solve, either through kits or Grid Tech.
As for Rita and Zedd's monsters, there's only so much I can extrapolate. As mentioned in my review of the Power Rangers Core Rulebook, the lack of established villains as threats makes it tricky to pin down what makes them stand out.
However, thanks to enemy encounters seen in all of the pre-written material as well as an official Threat Creation Guide, some consistent details pop up. First, a lot of Power Ranger Threats are extremely durable. In addition to being Resistant to different types of damage, Threats like Rito Revolto can just shrug off damage with Mighty Resilience. They also have more command over the battlefield with powers like Gridblink, and can just send characters into pocket dimensions, radically changing the dynamics of a fight. Combine this powerhouse mentality with standard Putty enemies' Strength in Numbers Perk and certain holes can be punched through the Joes' defensive lines....or breach Cobra's strongholds depending on the story.
How To Use Essence20 To Make The Perfect GI Joe Power Rangers Crossover – Minor Homebrew Tweaks
Last but not least, here are a few quick creative choices I made as part of my crossover that helped ease a few odd outlying rules at my table. These are totally optional and are just personal recommendations.
- Allow The Rangers To Customize Their Blade Blasters: Give the Blade Blaster sidearm just one customizable slot and let the Rangers give a bit more personality to their weapon.
- Introduce Grid Tech Kits: Take the requisition kits that GI Joe has and adapt it to the Rangers. They have to spend 1 Personal Power to use them and they're good just for a single use.
- Introduce Damage Drop-Off: Rules as written, a team of Cobra Troopers can take out a Megazord just from pure volume of attacks. Instead, have it be that the damage is reduced by 1 for every two size categories or higher the target of the attack is compared to the attacker. Exceptions are Energy attacks and weapons that have Armor-Piercing properties.
- Settle On One Kind of Aim Rule: In Power Rangers, you can Aim before attacking up to three times, stacking bonuses. In GI Joe, it is implied you can only aim once. Find a middle ground and stick to it. It will save you a headache down the road.