Tag Archives: superheroes

Fletcher Hanks: The RPG

Fletcher Hanks: The RPG

A brief post, inspired by a Facebook conversation.

GM:”You encounter a…”
Player: “I transform it into a two-headed frog, then take the frog to a space-snake, which swallows the frog and halfway digests it, but then I make the space-snake spit up the half-digested frog and I take what’s left and throw it into a black hole where it will be torn apart by gravitational forces for eternity while still being conscious.”
GM:”… jaywalker.”
Player: “I stand by my actions.”

And if you don’t know who Fletcher Hanks is… he is, or rather, was an alcoholic, violently abusive man who died alone and forgotten, frozen on a bench in Central Park in the 1970s.. and in the early 1940s created some of the most insane, bizarre, strange, and unforgettable comic book stories ever. Crudely drawn, poorly written, and bursting with the energy of unhinged madness and the desperate urge to churn out pages as fast as possible to meet the demands of an industry in its boom stage. Of his life between the last comic he published and his unheralded death — it would be decades until his lunatic genius was brought to a wider audience — almost nothing is known. But you can read everything he published, as well as the saga of tracking him down, here.

A Villain Team?

A Terrifying Trio

So this crawled into my head as a villain team for some supers game I’ll never run.

Caught in an undersea volcanic explosion, a scuba diver was mutated into a hideous lava covered monstrosity with giant pincers in place of hands, and extracts revenge on the world as the ROCK LOBSTER!

A martial artist was banned from competition when their mutant power to become two-dimensional manifested unexpectedly… with their career destroyed, they turned to crime as the PAPER TIGER!

An explosion embedded shards of lethal metal in the skin of an ordinary dockworker, while granting them superhuman speed, and the world fears the razor-sharp, lightning-fast crimes of RUNS WITH SCISSORS!

This is the kind of thing that always gets me nasty notes from my editors…

Back From GenCon

And, as usual, I spent a lot of money, though not as much as you’d think. By the end of the con, Troll and Toad had an “Everything $1.00!” sale. The guy there told me “If you fill a box, you can get it for 25.00, flat.”


There was a lot of stuff there I’d paid $5.00 for at the start of the con I could have bought for <$1.00 on Sunday… but there was also a lot of stuff no longer there, so I don’t regret spending money early. (Among other things, picking up C&S Sourcebooks 1 and 2 for $5.00 each? Pretty sweet, if you ask me — mint condition, vintage 1980 or 1981 or so.)

In Which I Rip A Vault Door Off In The Name Of Stealth

I actually don’t get to game much at GenCon. At this one in particular, I was hyping my new book on Thursday, and shopping (and then passing out) on Friday, but I got a little gaming in. Saturday, I got to play the new Marvel Heroic Roleplay game. (Let’s see, Marvel has had four different game systems now, and DC has had three…)

My conclusion, based on a few hours of play, is that the system is likely to really appeal to a lot of gamers, and captures many of the key features of comic books as they are written very well in terms of mechanics. However, I don’t think it appeals to me as a system, because I’m weird and my tastes are odd. The dice pool mechanics are set up so that, overall, just about everyone is going to be roughly equally effective, though slightly better/worse in some areas. This really models comics accurately, where Captain America and Thor can share the stage, and no matter who the writer decides to have the hero fight, he will win. Daredevil vs. Galactus? Daredevil will win, somehow.

This is accomplished by a dice pool mechanic that gives you a bunch of dice of different sizes to roll, then lets you split them up into “success” and “effect”. So, if I’m a hero with a lot of combat skill, but not a particularly damaging attack (say, Daredevil), I might have a couple of D10 or D12 in various areas to represent my skill and agilty, but a D6 to represent my attack itself… but when I roll them all, I might end up with a really good D6 roll and a really crappy D12 roll, and, when all is said and done, what matters is the size of the Effect Die, not the value. So, if you roll a ‘1’ on your D12 or D10, you make that your Effect Die — and you build your Success die from which ever dice roll highest (you pick two, but you can spend plot points to add more).

Because a pool typically is a lot of dice, and it seems most heroes will have several D10s and D12s to play with, you end up with roughly equal outcomes. It also seems that less powerful heroes have more opportunities to earn extra dice from complications. Another thing that drives this is that each hero is rated for “Team”, “Buddy” and “Solo”. My character had a measly D6 in Team — so when she was acting with a group, she was substantially less effective than if she was off on her own (D10 Solo). Even though the session I was in was fairly short, I could see how the mechanics worked to enforce comic book genre tropes, including one that’s the bane of many other systems — splitting the party. In the Marvel Heroic Roleplay system, some characters should go rushing off on their own, while others shine if they’re surrounded by allies.

So, it’s probably one of the best simulations of comic book “reality” I’ve played. My tastes, though, run to more traditionally “simulationist” games, albeit with a genre filter. If the Hulk manages to land a punch on Daredevil, Daredevil should be red goop, and no matter how well Daredevil throws his billy club, it should never damage the Hulk. Now, in actual comics, the writers will contrive things: Daredevil keeps dodging the Hulk, and his attacks don’t target the Hulk directly, but, instead, knock down conveniently placed obstacles. Marvel Heroic’s system models this dynamic perfectly, as the highly abstract dice pool system strongly encourages players and GMs to flavor text to explain what just happened.

I prefer the idea of heroes and villains at various tiers of effectiveness, with rules that don’t try to enforce authorial fiat except in very broad ways (for example, it’s overall much harder to kill someone as opposed to just knocking them out). I like the idea that Daredevil is a “Street Level” hero and Thor is a “Cosmic” hero and that’s that. Such games don’t simulate actual comics perfectly; they simulate, instead, a world of comic book heroes. These aren’t the same thing; they’re different design goals and they appeal to different types of gamers. (The current DC Adventures RPG game from Green Ronin is much closer to this style.)

Anyway, to explain the headline of this section… we were the Young Avengers, none of whom I’d ever heard of. I was playing “Thor Girl”, who got XP and plot points when she acted like Thor. The rest of the players were (following Nick Fury’s advice) sneaking around like 1st level OD&D characters, coming up with complex plots and schemes to get in and out of our target building without being noticed. Eventually, we got to a giant metal vault door. They started trying to look for opening mechanisms, control panels, etc. I just grabbed the door, ripped it off its hinges, and tossed it backwards down the corridor. The conversation went something like this:

Other Player: “Nick Fury told us to be sneaky!”

Thor Girl: “Aye, verily, that clattering roar will surely deafen any guards! They’ll never hear us now!”

(According to my character sheet, Thor Girl considered stealth and subtlety to be “Loki’s way”, and she ain’t havin’ with none of that.)

More later. I’m likely to do a character build using the new Hackmaster 5e. Any game where the rules explicitly state that “If there is any ambiguity which the GM must interpret, he should usually take the interpretation least favorable to the PC” is my kind of old school! Viking hat FOREVER!