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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 »

A Hero Is Born

Recent work on The Four Color Hack has slowed due to life (work, illness, et cetera) combined with Peter C. Spahn’s distracting WWII: Operation WhiteBox. Today, I refer you to an earlier TFCH post, specifically one that describes Diesel, a sample hero.

At this link right here, you can find a PDF excerpt of the hero creation rules. Major influences on hero creation include Atomic Sock Monkey’s Truth & Justice, DC Heroes by Mayfair Games, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying from Margaret Weis Productions, and Risus: The Anything RPG by S. John Ross. There are some other influences in there as well, such as (obviously) The Black Hack.


December 6th, 2016  in RPG No Comments »

Drats! I’m Late Again!

Another excerpt from my draft one document for The Four Color, this time talking about the inclusion of hero-focused subplots.


A Subplot is a story within a story. It occurs during an Issue, but a Subplot is not the main focus that the Issue. Subplots give the Writers and Editor a chance to explore the more mundane facets of a hero’s life. The use of Subplots puts the Writer in the driver’s seat for determining the elements of his hero’s Subplot.

The Writer’s Outline

Preparing a Subplot to present to the Editor requires answering a few questions.

What Is the Conflict? Subplots must have some sort of conflict, but those conflicts seldom involve actual combat. Instead, the conflicts tend to be personal or interpersonal. Diesel missed his last date with Irene because he was saving a busload of children, and Irene is displeased with being stood up yet again. Diesel has promised her that he’ll make it up to her. What sort of comedy of errors might ensue?

What Introduces the Conflict? Your hero becomes aware of the Subplot somehow. Does Diesel bring Irene flowers as an apology only to be roundly rebuked?

Who Else Is Involved? Are any other heroes part of the Subplot? If so, what do those heroes (and their Writers) know about the Subplot before it begins? Also, what non-hero characters are involved, and what roles do those non-hero characters play? Keep in mind that while a Subplot does shift the focus to a specific hero, it’s generally bad form to leave the other players sitting around with nothing to do for too long. More on this below under The Editor’s Outline.

How Might the Conflict Resolve? It helps to give the Editor an idea or three about expected possible outcomes for a Subplot. A Subplot with only one possible outcome is possible, of course, but a degree of uncertainty can increase dramatic tension and make for a more satisfying resolution.

The Editor’s Outline

Once the Editor has received a Subplot outline from a Writer, the Editor must review the proposed Subplot, keeping in mind questions such as these:

How Does the Subplot Fit? Perhaps the most important consideration for the Editor is how easily the Subplot can fit into the current Issue. Diesel trying to keep that important date with Irene might be a great idea for a Subplot, but if Diesel is currently trapped in the Dimension of Rage, it could be really difficult justifying shifting focus a bit toward his dating problems. If the Subplot does fit the current Issue, develop some idea about how the Subplot will interrupt or mesh with the main action of the story.

Will the Subplot Be Fun? The second most important question relates to fun, and that includes fun for everyone at the table, not just the Writer of the Subplot. As mentioned above, it’s bad form to expect the other Writers to be passive spectators to someone else’s fun. For example, years ago, I GMed a short-lived superhero campaign. One of the heroes was a surly, rebellious teenage girl with fabulous powers who skipped school and snuck out of the house to fight crime. We started one session with a Subplot about her parents staging an intervention. The other players took on the roles of the girl’s concerned parents, her pastor, and a professional psychologist. For about ten minutes, we played out our own episode of Dr. Phil, and fun was had by all.

Who Else Might Be Involved? The Writer should have already given the Editor some idea of which heroes and non-heroes might appear in the Subplot. Did the Writer forget anyone? Is there someone who ought to make an appearance that the Writer probably didn’t even consider? If so, add them.

What Do I Have to Prepare? Consider how much prep work needs to be done before the Subplot can be used in the current Issue. Plan accordingly.

December 2nd, 2016  in Product Development No Comments »