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Smite Those Undead!

…I am glorified in the eyes of the Lord, and my God is made my strength. (Isaiah 49:5)

Certain Lawful Clerics do not “turn” undead monsters. Instead, these Clerics call for divine assistance in direct combat with the undead. Such a Cleric’s player rolls 2d10 and refers to the table for turning the undead as normal, but the results of success differ as follows:

* If the number on the dice is equal to or greater than the number shown on the table, the Cleric gains for 3d6 rounds a +1 “to-hit” bonus and a damage bonus equal to the half Cleric’s level (round up) when fighting affected undead.

* If the table indicates “T”, the Cleric gains for 3d6 rounds a +1 “to hit” bonus and a damage bonus equal to the Cleric’s level when fighting the affected undead. Furthermore, the Cleric makes one attack per level each round against the affected undead.

* If the table indicates “D”, the Cleric gains for 3d6 rounds a +1 “to hit” against the affected undead. Any hit automatically destroys the undead monster, reducing it to dust. Furthermore, the Cleric makes one attack per level each round against the affected undead.

January 15th, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

Brutacles and Agents of H.U.R.T.

So, my soon-to-be-released-in-playtest-format superhero RPG The Four Color Hack is almost ready for DriveThruRPG. As part of the section on villains, I include stats for agents of H.U.R.T., but I have no idea what H.U.R.T. stands for. Thoughts? Suggestions?

Also, let’s take a look at the rules for creating villains and mobs.

Each Issue features certain villains, mobs, and non-heroes. In all three instances, the rules for hero creation do not apply. Those rules exist for the Writers to create their heroes. As the Editor, you have more freedom.

Villains: Every villain has a level, which ranges from 1 to 10. The villain’s level determines his base damage, damage points, and Hero Dice equivalent for powers and abilities.

Base damage shows what to roll when the villain makes a successful attack. You’ll need to define that this attack looks like. Damage points are divided between Body and Spirit in whatever ratio seems appropriate for the villain. Also, the villain has base protection points equal to his level. These base protection points are divided between Body and Spirit as deemed acceptable. The Hero Dice equivalent column shows you the strength of the villain’s powers and abilities. Average the Villain Level column to approximate the villain’s actual level if you mix and match values from the chart.

For example, let’s consider Brutacles, who is something of a novice villain, but he’s not a complete novice. He is level two for base damage and damage points. He derives his powers from mutagenic steroids, which has a d8 value, and he wears protective armor and fights with a ball-and-chain.

Brutacles (Level 2 Villain)
Body: 66 (2 protection)
Spirit: 20 (0 protection)
Base Damage: d4
Powers: Ball-and-Chain d6 (1d4+1d6+1d8 damage), Brutal Armor d6 (4 protection), Mutagenic Steroids d8

Sadistic and violent, Brutacles fights with a Ball-and-Chain aided by muscles enhanced with Mutagenic Steroids. He is physically tough (6 points of protection for Body), but his mental and spiritual defenses are quite lacking. Brutacles is strong enough to lift about 2,400 pounds.

Mobs: Not all threats rise to the level of villain, but that doesn’t mean they can be ignored. Mobs represent a middle ground between villains and non-heroes. Most heroes won’t have too much trouble dealing with mobs, but these bad guys can still serve to slow down, confuse, and harrass heroes. All mobs have d3 base damage, 80 damage points, and at most a d4 Hero Die equivalent. They have one point of base protection at most, and some item of equipment usually explains this defense. Each mob represents either a large group (9-12 individuals) or small group (2-5 individuals). Divide the mob’s damage points as evenly as possible among the individuals.

When a mob (or part of a mob) targets a hero, don’t expect a roll to defend against each member of the mob. A single roll suffices, but increase the mob’s damage by +1 for each member after the first. For example, a mob of ten H.U.R.T. agents lay down a barrage of blaster fire at Diesel. Diesel’s player rolls 1d20 to defend, and fails. Diesel suffers 1d3+1d4+9 points of damage from the combined assault, which is probably enough to inflict a small amount of Body damage to the metal-skinned hero.

Agents of H.U.R.T. (Mob of 10)
Body: 50 (5 per agent)
Spirit: 30 (3 per agent)
Base Damage: d3
Equipment: Body Armor (1 protection)
Powers: Anti-Hero Weaponry d4

The agents of H.U.R.T. are trained, paramilitary operatives. Individually, they present little threat to heroes, but they operate in squads and are typically armed with high-powered blasters or other anti-hero weaponry.

December 19th, 2016  in RPG No Comments »

Your Comic Book

Thoughts about superhero gaming in general as rough drafted in The Four Color Hack.

The first step to playing your comic book is to get all of the players together. One player assumes the role of the Editor. The Editor referees the game during play. Also, the Editor prepares Events and Issues, including the various villains and regulars that the heroes may encounter during a game session. The other players will assume the roles of the Writers, whose job it is to create a hero and determine what that hero does when, where, why, and how during the game.

For your first session, the main goal is to have fun creating the setting and the heroes that your comic book will be about. Don’t worry about figuring out every single detail of your comic book’s setting. Right now, you just need to answer some of the big picture questions that help define your setting in somewhat broad terms. If you want to get really serious about setting creation, I heartily recommend Microscope by Ben Robbins as the best collaborative roleplaying game for creating a campaign background.


Every setting has a certain style and a certain focus. The styles can be divided into four broad categories: Humor, Four Color, Cinematic, and Gritty.

Humor: Think zany. Think older cartoons such as Mighty Mouse or The Impossibles. Think newer cartoons such as Freakazoid! or Darkwing Duck. Think Adam West and Burt Ward being menaced by an egg-wielding, bald Vincent Price. No ever gets killed or even seriously hurt, and evil the wickedest villain’s schemes have a strong dose of silliness.

Four Color: The heroes are definitely the good guys, the villains are certainly bad, but the tone seldom ventures too deep into darkness. We expect the good guys to win, and the fall out from the villains’ schemes seldom have dire, lasting effects. A Four Color world is also a black and white world. Contrasts are sharp, and the lines between right and wrong are clear and inflexible. Think of stories such as the Silver Age Justice League of America. Think of the Comics Code era and its restrictions on graphic violence, sexuality, et cetera.

Cinematic: Shifting to Cinematic, we find that our heroes are less like mythic figures and more like ordinary people with extraordinary abilities. The action tends to be melodramatic, focusing on a sensational series of events that play on emotions while avoiding too much character development. Many of the big-budget motion pictures depicting superheroes fit into the Cinematic style. So too do some of the more recent comic books, such as Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and Uncanny Inhumans. Cinematic stories might tackle real-world issues, but usually in a ham-fisted manner, ignoring nuance and even accuracy in order to emphasize melodramatic elements.

Gritty: This style seeks to emulate the real world while emphasizing those elements of life that create ambiguity, uncertainty, and apprehension. People in the Gritty style still believe in right and wrong, but those with strong moral convictions often face existential challenges that threaten to undermine or even destroy their certainty. Real-world issues are a mainstay of the Gritty style, and heroes that face strong temptations to resort to extreme measures that blur the line between heroism and villainy. The late 80s to early 90s series starring the Shadow written by Gerard Jones and Eduardo Barreto fits the Gritty style. So too does the recent Netflix series Daredevil and Jessica Jones.


The foci can likewise be divided, but into three broad categories: Street, Superhero, and Cosmic.

Street: This focus keeps most of the story confined to a particular city or part of a city. The heroes seldom stray too far from their stomping grounds, and, when they do, they usually end up involved in another city’s Street focus. The villains’ plans likewise tend to be localized and don’t usually require widespread destruction. Examples include the aforementioned Daredevil series and many stories involving Spider-Man and Batman.

Superhero: The heroes’ sphere of concern expands to encompass an entire nation or perhaps the world itself. The heroes are likely to be jetsetters, traveling long distances in their efforts to thwart villainous plots that might affect millions, even billions, of people. Marvel’s The Avengers and DC’s Justice League of America exemplify this focus.

Cosmic: As you’ve probably deduced, a Cosmic focus means the heroes travel from planet to planet, maybe even from galaxy to galaxy, in their quest to fight the forces of evil. Jim Starlin’s thoroughly awesome Dreadstar exemplifies the Cosmic focus.

Keep in mind that neither style nor focus speak definitively about the power levels of either the heroes or villains. Gotham’s most famous masked vigilante has regularly had adventures across all three foci, and he’s run the gamut of styles from Humor to Gritty.


When does your comic book take place? Today? Some time in the recent past, such as the 1960s with the Cold War at its height? The most distant past, such as the American Revolution, Augustus Caesar’s Roman Empire, or maybe further back when the ancient Israelites fought to conquer the land they believed had been promised to them? If the present day or the past don’t interest you, there’s the uncharted decades or centuries of the future waiting for your heroes.

Genre Crossovers

Is your comic book going to be a straight-up superhero saga, or do elements from other genres appear? If the heroes all work for a secret government agency, then spies and intrigue enter the picture. Have strange visitors from distant worlds made contact with your comic’s world? If so, then all sorts of possibilities from “To Serve Man” on The Twilight Zone and The War of the Worlds to the more recent Defiance television series make themselves available. Perhaps all of the heroes are high school kids dealing not only with villains but also social pressures and homework?

To Trope or Not to Trope

Superhero comics, like any genre, tend toward certain conventions or patterns. The colorful, skin-tight costumes worn by most superheroes, for example, is a nearly ubiquitous trope. Hardly anyone in Metropolis thinks its odd that the Man of Steel wears his underwear outside his tights. Many superheroes also have romantic difficulties ranging from missing dates because Professor Evil is at it again to having loved ones kidnapped or attacked. In short, you should decide on two or three tropes that your comic book embraces and two or three tropes that your comic book downplays or avoids entirely.

December 14th, 2016  in RPG No Comments »

Hero Advancement! Huzzah!

About a week ago, I hit a wall writing The Four Color Hack. For several days, it seemed as if the rules were pretty much writing themselves, but them I hit the section on character advancement. Since TFCH doesn’t have classes, and since superheroes changing powers or gaining new powers and so forth is so much a part of the genre, I knew level advancement would have to be more complex than The Black Hack, but I just couldn’t nail down how to rough-draft the rules. That is, until I had a flash of insight, so to speak, while driving to work this morning. What follows is the gist of the system.

When you create your hero, he starts at 1st level. As he saves lives, fights villains, and figures out how to balance hero-ing with his normal life, he grows in experience and knowledge. Your hero needs experience points (XP) equal to 4 plus his current level to gain a level. XP is earned at certain specific points during game play.

End of Session

At the end of each game session, your hero gains 1 XP. He gains additional XP equal to the highest Bonus Hero Die earned during the session: 1d4, 1d6, or 1d8 = 1 XP; 1d10, 1d12, or 1d16 = 2 XP; 1d20 = 3 XP. You may also rename or redefine one of your hero’s idioms to reflect your hero’s experiences during the session. You may also rearrange the Hero Dice within a power container. You may also rename or redefine one of your hero’s idioms to reflect your hero’s experiences during the session. You may also rearrange the Hero Dice within a power container.

End of Issue

At the end of an Issue, your hero gains 2 XP. He gains additional XP equal to the highest Bonus Hero Die earned during the session the Issue ended: 1d4, 1d6, or 1d8 = 1 XP; 1d10, 1d12, or 1d16 = 2 XP; 1d20 = 3 XP. As at the end of session, you may also rename or redefine one of your hero’s idioms to reflect your hero’s experiences during the issue. You may also rearrange the Hero Dice within a power container. Lastly, you gain a Hero Improvement Die, which is explained more immediately below.

Leveling Up

When your hero earns sufficient XP to advance a level, you may perform the following:

See If Ability Scores Increase: Roll 1d20 for each ability score. If the die result is higher than the ability score, increase that score by 1 point. You may roll twice for one ability score, choosing the better of the two results. No ability score may increase to higher than 20. Increases in ability scores change Body and Spirit totals.

Gain a New Skill: You may decide to not roll to increase any two ability scores in order to give your hero a new skill. A skill is a relatively narrow specialization tied to an ability score. When your hero uses a skill, roll with Advantage.

See if Body and Spirit Increase: Aside from any increases to Body and Spirit gained from higher ability scores, your hero’s damage thresholds may rise. Roll 1d8-1 for one and 1d6-1 for the other. It’s your choice as to which die applies to which set of points with each level increase.

Spend Hero Improvement Dice: Your hero has earned a Hero Improvement Die. This die starts as a d4 and upgrades one step each time a new Hero Improvement Die is earned. You use a Hero Improvement Die to add new powers or to improve old powers. Adding new powers works just like spending Hero Dice during character creation. These new powers can be part of an old power container, or they can form a new power container, which must have a limitation as normal. Upgrading an old power to the next highest die requires a die equal to the power’s current value. Bee Girl had Flight d6. In order to gain Flight d8, Bee Girl would have to spend a d6 Hero Improvement Die.

If you want, a Hero Improvement Die can be exchanged for a larger number of lesser dice just like you did when you created your hero. So, if Bee Girl had earned a d8 Hero Improvement Die, she could trade that it for 2d6 and improve both Flight and Bee Senses, add two new powers at 1d6 each, et cetera.

December 13th, 2016  in RPG No Comments »

The Accursed Hirviö

With the ascendancy of the Via Lucis to political and theological supremacy, the Emperors began to enforce a more rigid orthodoxy. Those people judged heretical, schismatic, or pagan often faced serious social and economic penalties. Rather than convert or endure these penalties, many groups chose to leave imperial lands, establishing outlaw communities in wild places. But the price of their freedom is often high, especially for those who cross the Renos and Danuvius rivers into the Recondite Frontier. Strange machines and eldritch dangers haunt that vast forest now growing where the cities of the Sortarii once stood, built around the blood-stained ziggurats of those wicked sorcerers. Rarely, living in cursed places has cruel effects on newborns who come into the world as Hirviöes. Deformed, of prodigious size and strength, often disabled both mentally and morally, few Hirviöes survive to adulthood. Those that do most often turn to lives of violence and crime, outcasts unwelcome and feared by most.

Hirviö Class Abilities

Attribute Scores: When creating a Hirviö, do not roll attribute scores as normal. Instead, roll 1d6 for both Strength and Constitution, and record the following results: 1 = 13, 2 = 14, 3-4 = 15, 5 = 17, 6 = 18. Roll 3d4 and total the results to determine Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, and Charisma.

Great Size, Great Strength: The average Hirviö stands a bit more than 7 feet tall and tips the scales at about 25 stone. A Hirviö’s bulk and might enable him to perform enormous feats of strength, each of which is described hereafter.

When a Hirviö uses brute strength against an inanimate obstacle, roll 1d6. The chance of success is shown on the adjacent table. If successful, the player chooses two or three consequences from the following list. Consequences not chosen indicate results that were not avoided.

* The attempt doesn’t take a very long time.
* Nothing of value is damaged.
* The attempt doesn’t make an inordinate amount of noise.
* The inanimate obstacle can be fixed again without a lot of effort.

In melee combat, if a Hirviö scores maximum damage against a foe, some additional physical consequence results from the powerful attack. Possibilities include events such as sundering the foe’s shield, breaking the foe’s weapon, or forcing the foe into a disadvantageous position.

Finally, a Hirviö may move and brace himself so that his armor or shield takes the brunt of an attack. Reduce damage by half and roll 1d6. If the die result equals or exceeds the amount of protection provided by the armor or shield, the armor or shield is damaged. Reduce its effect on Armor Class by 1 point, which makes the armor or shield more suspectible to harm should this ability be used again. If the effect on Armor Class is reduced to 0, the armor or shield is ruined. Nota Bene: In most cases, a shield is destroyed by a single use of this ability.

Saving Throws: Hirviöes possess enormous strength and vitality, gaining a +2 bonus to saving throws against disease and poison.

Weapon and Armor Restrictions: Hirviöes may wear any kind of armor and may use shields; however, their armor and shields must be specially made for their great size. Hirviöes may use any weapons. They are large and strong enough to use two-handed melee weapons with only one hand, although they suffer a -2 penalty to attack rolls when doing so. Hirviöes resolve their attacks using the same table as Fighters.

December 10th, 2016  in RPG No Comments »