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

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.

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
‘ 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


Strength        2                  Fighting         2

Stamina          3                  Intellect       1

Agility            6                  Awareness    6

Dexterity       5                  Presence        4


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


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


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


Initiative +6

Possession +10                  Close, Affliction 10

Unarmed +X*                     Close, Damage X*

*Depends on Fgt and Str of body possessed.


Dodge               10               Fortitude          Immune

Parry                 5                  Toughness       8/3**

                                                Will                    8

Defensive Roll

Power Points

Abilities          58                Skills                21

Powers          101                Defenses           9

12                Total           201


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!

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