February 2011 Archives

Heroes & Villains Design Journal #2: Freedom Fighters

By Christopher McGlothlin, M.Ed.

Hi, I'm Christopher McGlothlin. You may remember me from such sourcebooks as DC Adventures: Heroes & Villains Vol. IDC Adventures: Heroes & Villains Vol. II, and the ones I did under my pen name "Steve Kenson."

Line developer Jon Leitheusser -- not to be confused with the Reverse Leitheusser or Bizarro Leitheusser (always check to see if the uniform colors are reversed before trusting "Jon")--asked me for an after-action report on designing the Freedom Fighters for Heroes & Villains Vol. I. This is the red, white, and blue result.

Some of you are no doubt going, "Freedom Fighters? Grant Morrison! Jimmy Palmiotti! Justin Gray! Cool!" Others are exclaiming, "Len Wein! Totally radical!" Somebody else is probably going, "Ah, the Quality Comics characters." The best part is, like a peewee league soccer game, everybody wins! You're all correct.

That's just a fact of life for most DC Comics characters: they've been around since Fibber McGee & Molly ruled all media (and a most Happy 75th Anniversary to Major Wheeler-Nicholson's progeny, while I'm at it!). Not only have the characters associated with the Freedom Fighters been around since rumble seats, they've been invented, re-invented, re-imagined, and resurrected for each new generation of comic-book readers.

Enter yon middle-aged game designer. Golden Age idolater that I am, any mention of the Quality characters brought visions of Stormy Foster and Bozo the Iron Man to mind (no, that's not Robert Downey, Jr. in a clown suit). Then I was informed of the sourcebook's sub-Rowling page-count, and away went the obscurities, much to the Ghost of Flanders' sorrow
.

That still left the Bronze Age/Golden Age retcon version of the Freedom Fighters, the iteration that did red-shirt duty in Infinite Crisis, the current team, and many, many more words than I had room for. So like an afterschool special, I talked to some groovy adults, resisted peer pressure from the popular kids, and made the right choices. And you know something? I grew up a little in the process.

The first step was to make sure the Freedom Fighters' whole history was retold, from their big move to the DC metro area back in ‛42 to their long-running feud with the Silver Ghost to JLA: Year One (did you miss their cameos?), right on into the new millennium. So even when I lacked the room to quantify a particular character, I made sure he wasn't erased from memory. The Red Torpedo would've wanted it that way.

This made escaping the love-square between me and the Len Wein, Geoff Johns, and Morrison/Palmiotti/Gray versions of the team a lot easier. You see, all these talented creators know well the Freedom Fighters' long history (Uncle Sam debuted in 1940) is part of their appeal, and each rendition of the team took care to preserve their heritage. Therefore, focusing on the game statistics of the current version of the Freedom Fighters still left enough room to include the most significant differences between its present members and their predecessors. So whether you're a Richard Grey/Thomas Wright voter or a Ryan Kendall fanatic, it's not too much work to have your preferred Black Condor soaring through your DC Adventures series with the information presented.

Now I know there's no getting you into the tent without a little peek at what's inside, so peep this and get ready to buy your ticket. Yessiree, this book has the Red Bee in it. Yes, the Red Bee--my personal test for how big a DC fan someone really is. If you know Superman, that just shows you've been alive since 1938, but the people who know the Red Bee... someday, Johnny DC himself will look upon you and call you his own.

The Red Bee(s--there've been two so far) has appeared in three RPG books. I've written two of them. That's what I call an accomplished life, and herein lies the proof:

The Red Bee II                                                                                      PL10 • 150 points

Abilities Str 7, Sta 3, Agl 4, Dex 3, Fgt 4, Int 4, Awe 4, Pre 3

Powers Exoskeleton (40 points, Removable, -8 points): Stinger Blasts (electricity; Ranged Damage 8), Flight 5 (60 MPH; Wings), Impervious Protection 5, Enhanced Strength 4, Senses 1 (Communication Link with Robot Drones)

Advantages Beginner's Luck, Inventor, Minion 6 (2 Robot Drones)

Skills Close Combat: Unarmed 7 (+11), Expertise: Entomology 9 (+13), Expertise: Robotics 9 (+13), Expertise: Science 8 (+12), Perception 7 (+11), Ranged Combat: Stinger Blasts 9 (+12), Technology 7 (+11)

Offense Initiative +4, Stinger Blasts +12 (Ranged Damage 8), Unarmed +11 (Damage 7)

Defense Dodge 12, Parry 10, Fortitude 9, Toughness 8, Will 10

Totals Abilities 56 + Powers 32 + Advantages 8 + Skills 28 + Defenses 26 = 150

Complications

Thrills: Freed from the laboratory, the Red Bee quickly found the excitement of costumed super-heroics to her liking.

Relationship: The Human Bomb's hatred towards her drove her away from the team. She apparently harbors some degree of attraction to Andre Twist, but guilt over her actions while under the control of alien insects caused her to abruptly cease all contact with him, leaving their mutual feelings unresolved.

History

Jenna Raleigh is the grand-niece of Richard Raleigh, who fought crime and Axis saboteurs during the early 1940s as the costumed Red Bee. Uncle Sam saw to it her grand-uncle's notes and crime-fighting gear found their way into her hands, and coupled with her extensive knowledge of insects and robotics, she was able to outfit herself as the second Red Bee.

The new Red Bee made her public debut helping to free Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters from the clutches of S.H.A.D.E., and with that accomplished accompanied the team back to its extra-dimensional base "the Heartland." Excited by her first super-heroic outing, Jenna eagerly accepted Sam's offer to join the team, and remained steadfast even after witnessing the Invisible Hood II's slaying by the traitorous third Ray.

Jenna's assumption of the Red Bee mantle changed her life entirely. She experienced the first sparks of romance with her teammate Andre Twist, and was groomed by S.H.A.D.E. to become the team's public face after Stormy Knight became a drunken embarrassment. The greatest transformation of all occurred as a result of her encounter with a swarm of alien invaders which secretly took over her mind and forcibly mutated her body into a more insect-like form.

Under their domination, Jenna seized control of the Freedom Fighters and forced them to do her bidding in preparation for a full-scale invasion of Earth. Eventually Jenna regained her free will and normal human form with the help of her teammates, and was instrumental in defeating the insect conquerors. Despite her redemption and other mitigating factors, Jenna's relationships with Andy Franklin (whom she forced to mate with her) and Andre Twist were strained to the point she felt compelled to leave the team. She returned to her research, and it remains to be seen if she will ever resume her career as the Red Bee.

Richard Raleigh

The original Red Bee had no super-powers, but relied on his hand-to-hand combat training, swarm of trained bees, and "stinger gun" (Damage 8) to fight crime. Unlike Jenna, his Expertise was in practicing law and bee-keeping.

Robot Drone                                                                                      PL6 Minions • 46 points

Abilities Str -5, Sta ―, Agl 4, Dex -2, Fgt 0, Int ―, Awe 0, Pre ―

Powers Stinger Blasts (electricity; Ranged Damage 6), Shrinking 8 (Continuous, Permanent, Innate), Flight 5 (60 MPH; Wings), Immunity 40 (Fortitude Effects, Mental Effects)

Offense Initiative +4, Stinger Blasts +6 (Ranged Damage 6), Unarmed +8 (Damage -5)

Defense Dodge 12, Parry 9, Fortitude Immune, Toughness 0, Will Immune

Totals Abilities -26 + Powers 71 + Advantages 0 + Skills 0 + Defenses 1 = 46

 

I can hear the scoffers in the back snorting, "So yer game kin handle a guy who wears a belt full o' bees! What about a guy who can level Manhattan with his sweat, huh? Stat that, nerd boy!" So without any further ado, here's the new Human Bomb:

 

The Human Bomb II                                                                           PL12 • 234 points

Abilities Str 3, Sta 4, Agl 2, Dex 2, Fgt 2, Int 4, Awe 4, Pre 2

Powers Explosive Physiology: Array (132 points): Nuclear Blast (Burst Area 12 (16 Miles) Damage 12, Side Effect (same as base effect, always occurs)), AE: Tissue Grenades (Ranged Burst Area Damage 10,), AE: Thunderclap (Cone Area Damage 8); Fibro-Wax Containment Suit (Protection 6)

Advantages Extraordinary Effort

Skills Expertise: Chemistry 12 (+16), Expertise: Science 7 (+11), Technology 7 (+11)

Offense Initiative +2, Explosive Physiology (Damage 12, 10, or 8), Unarmed +2 (Damage 3)

Defense Dodge 12, Parry 12, Fortitude 8, Toughness 10, Will 14

Totals Abilities 46 + Powers 140 + Advantages 1 + Skills 13 + Defenses 34 = 234

Complications

Acceptance: The Human Bomb feels almost completely cut off from humanity, and hopes his heroism will somehow overcome the fear he engenders in others.

Temper: The highly emotional Andy has a tendency to overreact when he believes his teammates have been harmed, retaliating with extreme (sometimes lethal) force.

Accident: If not immersed in a fibro-wax bath or given special daily medication prepared by S.H.A.D.E., Andy's explosive physiology reaches critical mass in 24 hours and uncontrollably explodes at maximum Damage rank.

Honor: Though his Temper complication sometimes overwhelms him, Andy is normally governed by a strong moral concern for the well-being of others.


Andrew Franklin was a young research scientist working in Blüdhaven when the villain Chemo's exploding poisonous form ravaged the area. Like other city residents, Franklin gained meta-human abilities as a result, and his entire physiology become dangerously explosive. Contact with his bodily tissues, even his perspiration, could level cities. The government agency S.H.A.D.E. kept Andy immersed in liquid fibro-wax to keep his power in check until, at Father Time's behest, he was equipped to serve the organization as the new Human Bomb.

Of the various meta-humans working for S.H.A.D.E., Andy had the most qualms about its aims and means, and eventually deserted it to join Uncle Sam in forming a new Freedom Fighters. In time, his teammates lost their trepidations about his volatile abilities, and his awesome powers were a major asset in defeating Gonzo the Mechanical Bastard and its corrupt allies in S.H.A.D.E..

Later incidents threatened Andy's new hard-won friendships with his teammates. While both under the influence of invading alien insects, Jenna Raleigh forced Andy to mate with her, something he has yet to forgive her for. Andre Twist in turn harbored a grudge against Andy for the incident because of his feelings for Jenna, but the two have since reconciled. With the Freedom Fighters in abeyance, Andy ponders his future in the team's "Heartland" sanctuary.

Roy Lincoln

The original Human Bomb's abilities were similar to Franklin's, but with a top-rank Damage 9. Lincoln also did not have the Accident complication.

And that, gentle readers, is my testament to a legacy handed down from Lou Fine to Travis Moore & Trevor Scott, with many, many other talented folks involved along the way. It's equally humbling and an honor to have chronicled them, and I am left with but two words for the DC Adventures-buying public: En-joy!

***

Join us next time as Seth Johnson takes a look at what it's like to create different versions of a legacy character... just like Blue Beetle!

 All characters, their distinctive likenesses, and related elements are trademarks of DC Comics © 2011. All rights reserved.

Vigilance Press Podcast: Random Character Generation

All of the books and supplements created for DC Adventures work equally well with the new Mutants & Masterminds game, and vice versa. Coming soon, Green Ronin will release a GM Kit, which includes a screen with useful charts for the GM, beautiful artwork on the other side, and a booklet that contains a "Quickstart Character Generator." That last thing should be particularly useful to new DC Adventures players because with only a few d20 rolls you can create a new character!

Mike Lafferty and James Dawsey of Vigilance Press were joined by freelancer Jack Norris to test out the Quickstart Character Generator included in the GM Kit. The results were three playable and interesting characters -- all created in less than an hour. They also do a great job of explaining how the tables can be used to create 20 different archetypes, each with tons of variation!




Vigilance Press Podcast: DC Adventures and M&M Releases

Mike Lafferty and James Dawsey interviewed Heroes & Villains contributing writer Christopher McGlothlin and DC Adventures Line Developer Jon Leitheusser about upcoming releases for both Mutants & Masterminds and DC Adventures. 


Heroes & Villains Design Journal #1: Deadman

By Steven Trustrum

Putting Off-the-Wall Characters and Powers Under the Microscope

It's not every day a writer finds himself assigned a job quite so interesting as cobbling together character stats for the likes of a talking gorilla in love with a brain in a fish bowl, or an interstellar mercenary with a weapon that can cut through just about anything (including reality), but that's the situation I found myself in while working on DC Adventures: Heroes & Villains, Volume I. As you'd expect, unusual characters make for unusual power builds, and so I was faced with some... creative... and fun complications while approaching this assignment.

Expectedly, there are always challenges when working with a new game system, and DC Adventures was no different. Having written plenty of material for previous editions of the rules upon which this system is based, I came into the project with certain expectations and habits regarding power construction, but I immediately found many of these preconceptions no longer applied. The increasingly modular, "toolbox" approach to power building provided by the DC Adventures Hero's Handbook took some getting used to, accustomed as I was to the pre-built power constructs used in previous editions, but I quickly found my footing and even the unusual power concepts some of my assigned characters demanded ended up flowing from the new rules rather easily.

Deadman, by way of example, certainly qualifies as an oddball character with the potential for tripping up a designer operating within a new and not entirely familiar system. When first approaching the task of writing this ghostly character, I found myself scratching my head over his ability to possess people by displacing their minds and walking around in their bodies. Although previous editions of the rules presented a Possession power that would have fit the bill, the DC Adventures' rules contained no such animal for me to work with. I therefore approached the task by breaking the concept down to its core elements; by figuring out the crux of what the power was meant to do I believed I would find the solution to merging concept and game mechanics into a satisfying result.

I began with the realization that a ghost entering a living host in order to possess it was merely an ethereal (no joke intended) concept wrapped around the ability to take command of someone else's body, and so the control aspect rather than that of possession was the perspective from which I decided to approach the task. The fact that it was an incorporeal, invisible ghost slipping on someone else's skin like a new suit wasn't really relevant to how I needed to build the power. Once I understood the new rules accommodated such a fluid approach to power building, I found their avoidance of nailing everything down in a unique and separate power to be rather liberating, and the possession ability I believed would be complicated became incredibly simple.

Because this power was tied to Deadman's phantom state, however, I found it only natural to first construct his spectral body, an aspect of the character existing independently of his ability to possess people. Designing this power required combining a number of elements, resulting in a somewhat expensive power, which I called "Spectral Form," that fit the bill rather handily.

Spectral Form: Insubstantial 4 (Intangible; Not versus magic), Continuous, Innate, Permanent; Concealment 10 (All Senses), Continuous, Permanent; Flight 4 (30 MPH); Immunity 30 (Fortitude Effects); Senses 4 (Vision Counters Invisibility, Auditory Counters Spiritual Concealment), Dimensional, Limited to Spirits/Astral Entities • 83 points

As you can see, Insubstantial covers his walking through walls, Concealment accounts for his invisibility, and Flight is... well... his ability to fly around like a ghost. His Immunity covers the full spectrum of just about anything one would associate with no longer being alive, such as the need to sleep or eat, whereas his Senses power represents being able to see other ghosts and the like, even if they are not fully on the same plane of existence ― but doesn't allow him to see a living person who's invisible. DC Adventures allows all the component powers to be presented under a single entry, "Spectral Form," a handy design policy that makes power building much easier and far more thematic. This format also helps impose a context that translates into an easy-to-read, understandable presentation that makes good sense.

Having decided how I would represent Deadman's ghostly state, I moved on to the ability I initially thought would give me the most trouble: his possession power. Truly, the whole process became much more straightforward once I decided not make it a direct aspect of his Spectral Form. Once this conceptual decision was made, the actual write-up came easily.

Possession: Affliction 10 (Resisted by Will; Dazed, Compelled, Controlled), Affects Corporeal 10, Concentration, Cumulative, Insidious, Instant Recovery, Subtle 2, Limited to creatures with Int -3 or higher, Limited--Cannot access target's thoughts or memories • 18 points

The broad spectrum of possibilities now covered by the wide-ranging Affliction power (in my opinion, perhaps the most adaptable and useful effect in the game) easily handled the controlling nature of Deadman's possessing ability, whereas the simplified power modifier system took care of the remaining details. Because Affliction allows you to choose the conditions you wish to apply at each degree of success, I was allowed the exact result I was looking for in that regard, while Insidious and Subtle combined to represent the subject's inability to recall that he had been possessed. Add in the Instant Recovery flaw from the Affliction power along with Deadman's inability to access his host body's memory and voila!

Once accustomed to the DC Adventures' system, I found there wasn't a need to pin everything down within the confines of rules, as the system naturally allowed the concept to wrap around the mechanics without fuss, thus completing how the end user views the power in a way that is both effortless to understand and easy to implement during actual play.

Deadman                                 PL10

Abilities

Strength        2                  Fighting         2

Stamina          3                  Intellect       1

Agility            6                  Awareness    6

Dexterity       5                  Presence        4

Powers

Possession: Affliction 10 (Resisted by Will; Dazed, Compelled, Controlled), Affects Corporeal 10, Concentration, Cumulative, Insidious, Instant Recovery, Subtle 2, Limited to creatures with Int -3 or higher, Limited -- Cannot access target's thoughts or memories • 18 points

Spectral Form: Insubstantial 4 (Not versus Magic), Continuous, Innate, Permanent; Concealment 10, Continuous, Permanent; Flight 4 (30 MPH); Immunity 30 (Fortitude Effects); Senses 4 (Vision Counters Invisibility, Auditory Counters Spiritual Concealment), Dimensional, Limited to Spirits/Astral Entities • 83 points

Advantages

Connected, Defensive Roll 5, Luck 3, Power Attack, Skill Mastery 2 (Acrobatics, Athletics)

Skills

Acrobatics 6 (+12), Athletics 6 (+8), Close Combat: Unarmed 6 (+8), Close Combat: Possession 8 (+10), Expertise: Magic 2 (+3), Expertise: Supernatural 4 (+5), Investigation 4 (+5), Perception 4 (+10), Persuasion 2 (+6)

Offense

Initiative +6

Possession +10                  Close, Affliction 10

Unarmed +X*                     Close, Damage X*

*Depends on Fgt and Str of body possessed.

Defense

Dodge               10               Fortitude          Immune

Parry                 5                  Toughness       8/3**

                                                Will                    8

**Without Defensive Roll

Power Points

Abilities          58                Skills                21

Powers          101                Defenses           9

Advantages    12                Total           201

Complications

Spiritual Responsibilities: As a spirit in service to Rama Kushna, Deadman is frequently called upon to perform "other-worldly" duties, such as guiding other spirits to their final rest and defending the living against supernatural evils.

***

Join us next time as Christopher McGlothlin takes a look at the challenges of updating some classic older characters from the Golden and Silver Age!

 All characters, their distinctive likenesses, and related elements are trademarks of DC Comics © 2011. All rights reserved.

DC Adventures in the New Year

The DC Adventures Hero's Handbook has been out for a while now and we're at work on DC Adventures: Heroes & Villains, Volume I. The holidays slowed things down, which was expected, but then we were surprised by a long and bad illness by the people actually supplying us with the art from the DC archives. 

As of last week, we have about two-thirds of the art -- much of which was suggested by the fans over on our DC Adventures forum -- with more on the way this week. The book is being layed out, looks good, and we'll have updates and previews coming as soon as we can!

In January, we released the errata for the DC Adventures Hero's Handbook and also posted an updated PDF to the Green Ronin store. If you purchased the book from Green Ronin and haven't downloaded the newest version, head to your account page in the store and you should be able to get the revised file!

In the coming weeks, we'll have some more design journals written by contributors to the Heroes & Villains volumes. They'll feature some thoughts by the designers on challenges they faced while designing characters as well as character write-ups!

As for the other books in the DC Adventures line, Heroes & Villains Volume II is in development now, so we're going to start collecting art for that soon! And the writers are wrapping up their work on DC Adventures: Universe this week! 

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