July 2010 Archives
by Jack Norris
So let's talk about Thomas Blake, better known to comics fans as Catman.
Catman presented three challenges in DC Adventures. First, he's a lot like Batman. This might seem like a plus, and in a lot of ways it is, but it also means care needed to be taken to showcase both the similarities and differences between the two.
Second, when looking to the ultra-cool iconic version of the character you don't have a lot to work with. Most of Catman's 47-year history can best be described as moments of crazy and plenty of "Oh hey, he's like Catwoman as a dude." Only very recently has Catman been successfully reimagined as a truly dangerous costumed predator and anti-hero. It really took the character's portrayal in comics like Villains United and Secret Six to finally make him as notable and cool as Arthur Adams' portrait in the old Who's Who in the DC Universe made him look. And so that, mostly, is the version of the character that is used as inspiration for the DC Adventures write-up.
Third, Catman doesn't have any powers. This means the cool effects and in-game potency of the character comes from Abilities, Skills, and Advantages. And of course you want those stats to accurately reflect not only the character but also his relative place in the hierarchy of other heroes and villains.
So let's get to how that happens, shall we? I've rambled enough.
Methods differ, but I start with the background write-up. It puts me in the right frame of mind, brings up iconic moments and storylines, and lets me read comics as research. After this it's time to compare and contrast with other heroes and villains. Or in other words, it's time to play "who would win?" I take the image of the character I've worked up so far and compare it to the game stats of characters we've already developed. This gives me a solid idea of where, roughly, to place Catman among such esteemed company as Batman and Nightwing. This is also where I start to identify variables that will give the character an edge in conflicts with others.
Catman's very strong and tough but not superhuman, and cunning but no genius. His Abilities reflect that. The real exception is Fighting. Catman's Fighting of 11 puts him in an elite circle of combatants. He's not at the top, but he's very dangerous. And when you see him take down various superpowered foes in Villains United and Secret Six it's not hard to see where the support for that comes.
But the Abilities are just a skeleton. There's still the meat to go. In this case the meat is Advantages and Skills.
Let's look at Skills first. This is an important step because through these game mechanics I can explain a lot of the little details that really make Catman different from Batman, who in turn are both different from Nightwing, and so on. For example, Catman is currently shown in the comics as being one of best knife-fighters and trackers in the business. He's also one scary guy, who folks have compared not unfavorably to Batman in that regard. Of course, Blake's still wigged out by Batman so he's still probably not to the Dark Knight's level there, but then that just means he's only incredibly scary and driven, not completely scary and driven. So skills like Close Combat: Short Blades, Intimidation, Perception, and Expertise: Hunter are strong. Note that Close Combat: Short Blades was used instead of Close Combat: Knives to reflect that in addition to knives, Catman is also proficient with those handheld fighting claws he's fond of carrying. It's one of those neat things you can do in DC Adventures, tailoring your specialties to fit a character concept. Other skills like Stealth and Acrobatics are at appropriate levels to reinforce the "top costumed cat in the super-jungle" image of the character.
Advantages are a big deal for a character like this. They're the modifiers and tricks Catman uses instead of Powers to deal with Monsieur Mallah or whomever else might attack him. Advantages represent fighting style, important Equipment, and special abilities that don't fit in elsewhere. In Catman's case he has combat Advantages that reflect a fast, brutal, predatory style of combat that lacks the breadth of some "trained in the Orient for years" characters but still provides a wide range of thematically appropriate and fun tricks for him to pull. Add to this, Advantages that give him pointy things to stab folks with (Equipment) and those which showcase those things he's really, really good at (Tracking, Ultimate Tracking, Skill Mastery) and voilà!
Lastly, Catman has a unique distinction ― cats accept him as one of their own. He could live with a pride of lions and not get eaten. I used the Benefit advantage to reflect this little extra touch from the comics that isn't very important game-mechanics-wise, but really helps define and differentiate him.
Finally we add Defenses and Complications. Defenses are another place where I looked to similar characters to see how he compared in terms of willpower (Will), physical endurance (Fortitude), and general defensive combat abilities (Dodge and Parry).
Complications are probably the easiest to come up with since I've already written the history and personality of the character. In a nod to his crazier past, I give him the Complication "Delusional" and note that it's in the past. Then I move onto "Conflicted," an Obsession, and the Relationships he's formed. All of these are rich areas that could be mined by a Gamemaster (if Catman were a player character) for hero points, but also give a good sense of what the character is like and the sorts of challenges he faces.
And that's basically it. You can see the results right here on the page. Catman's going to do well in any hand-to-hand situation. But if he's got a blade on him he's got a notable edge (pun intended). And while his damage output is not superhuman, things like Power Attack help him put the hurt on even superhuman foes, which accurately reflects what has happened more than a few times in the DC Universe. And if you think this guy is just too scary and you need to run? Well, good luck because he's one of the best trackers around, with a high Perception, Expertise: Hunter, appropriate Skill Masteries, and Ultimate Effort (Tracking). Note that Catman isn't optimized to hit the PL cap at every turn and there are certain stylistic choices I could have made differently for the same number of points. But Catman's written up to reflect his abilities in the comics as accurately as possible and to make him different from several other Advantage- and Skill-based characters in the DC Universe while still fitting in with them. Enjoy.
Strength 4 Fighting 11
Stamina 4 Intellect 1
Agility 6 Awareness 4
Dexterity 4 Presence 4
Catarang: Ranged Strength-based Damage 2 • 8 points (Note: Catman rarely uses this weapon these days)
Fighting Claws: Strength-based Damage 2 • 2 points
Knives: Strength-based Damage 1, Improved Critical • 2 points
All-out Attack, Animal Empathy, Benefit 1 (Cats accept Catman as one of their own), Defensive Attack, Close Attack 3, Defensive Roll 4, Equipment 3, Evasion, Improved Initiative, Instant Up, Power Attack, Precise Attack (Close; Concealment), Quick Draw, Ranged Attack 4, Seize Initiative, Skill Mastery (Expertise: Hunter), Skill Mastery (Perception), Startle, Takedown, Tracking, Ultimate Effort (Tracking), Weapon Bind
Acrobatics 7 (+13), Athletics 10 (+14), Close Combat: Short Blades 2 (+13), Deception 5 (+9), Expertise: Animal Trainer 10 (+11), Expertise: Criminal 8 (+9), Expertise: Hunter 14 (+15), Insight 5 (+9), Intimidation 10 (+14), Perception 12 (+16), Persuasion 4 (+8), Ranged Combat: Throwing 4 (+8), Sleight of Hand 6 (+10), Stealth 10 (+16), Technology 5 (+6), Treatment 3 (+4), Vehicles 5 (+9)
Catarang +12 Range, Damage 6
Fighting Claws +16 Close, Damage 6
Knives +16 Close, Damage 5, Crit. 19-20
Unarmed +14 Close, Damage 4
Dodge 14 Fortitude 9
Parry 14 Toughness 8/4*
*Without Defensive Roll.
Abilities 76 Skills 60
Powers 0 Defenses 22
Advantages 32 Total 190
Conflicted: Catman is often torn between extremes such as hero or villain; leader or follower; loner or team player.
Delusion: (past) Catman thought his special costume protected him from harm.
Obsession: In the past, Catman was obsessed with cat-themed places, objects and people, including the villainess Catwoman. He has abandoned this Obsession but feels a connection to big cats, their predatory ways, and hunting that at times borders on extreme.
Relationships: Catman has a son, Thomas, Jr. with the villainess
All characters, their distinctive likenesses, and related elements are trademarks of DC Comics © 2010. All rights reserved.
We've posted a downloadable excerpt from the DC ADVENTURES Hero's Handbook, including the introduction to Chapter 11: Heroes & Villains (which answers the question "Why is Batman Power Level 12?"), as well as the complete entry for Aquaman.