Eclipse and Four Color Heroics

The question this time is basically how some Eclipse-style superhero builds match up to Mutants and Masterminds third edition builds – with specific reference to the original “New Mutants” and their writeups over at the “Atomic Think Tank”.

Well, why not? I haven’t built very many superheroes, so this is a perfectly reasonable topic to get back to posting with.

So what do you need to buy to be a four-color superhero?

First up… the Superheroic World Template obviously applies. That’s pretty simple; it gives each character (Con Mod) points of Mana to spend each round. You generally can’t augment this, but the GM may well let you use another attribute without even taking Finesse. It only defaults to Constitution because Superheroes are almost invariably healthy types who push through terrible conditions and massive injuries, recover quickly and completely, and hardly ever get sick. Ergo, a high Constitution is encouraged – but if you must play a frail psychic or studious elderly wizard or something, swapping to Wisdom or Intelligence is pretty reasonable.

The obvious way to use that power is to make normally limited-use abilities unlimited. Go ahead. Use Berserker to keep your strength jacked up to superhuman levels all the time, or turn Grant of Aid into and endless font of regeneration, or exercise endless telekinetic control over the earth, or whatever. Really, that’s quite enough to make you a street-level superhero.

But if you want to be a true four-color superhero you’ll need a few extra ways to use that power.

Superheroic Physics (6 CP):

In some settings, characters with mighty superhuman powers have to deal with “consequences”. They have to worrry about what gets hit when they miss with an attack, the fact that buildings do not have the structural integrity to be picked up, and that trying to punch through three feet of steel will simply drive you backwards and (probably) massively damage whatever you’re standing on because it will be hit just as hard. People in such street-level superhero universes have to deal with those pesky conservation laws, leverage, and all the other factors that real people have to deal with. Superman may be strong, but no amount of strength will actually let you move planets, or lift mountain ranges, instead of going through them.

In “four-color” superhero settings – the default type for Mutants and Masterminds, Champions / Hero System, and many other games – reality need not apply. Superman is simply altering reality to go along with his heroic narrative. To do that, we want to buy an:

  • Mana / Additional Form of Natural Magic (Reality Editing), Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / only to support the user’s heroic narrative and let the user’s abilities function without normal scaling restrictions (6 CP).

And there you go. Go ahead and lift that building and smack someone with it without having it fall apart. Catch someone who’s falling without killing them with the impact with you. Run down the stairs faster than someone can fall. Fly at incredible speeds without smashing the city around you with sonic booms. This won’t really help when you’re up against another superhuman though. When both characters are using this effect it just goes back to comparing the underlying abilities – but it will allow (for a very dramatic example) Binary to punch Rogue into orbit without serious harm to either character OR destroying the area, just as it will then allow Rogue to return from the vicinity of the moon and locate her destination in mere seconds. It means that long-range travel operates at the speed of plot rather than according to actual time and distance – with the only important measurements being however the game master chooses to distinguish between “way too late”, “just too late”, “just in time”, and “way early”.

As a side-benefit, this also means that you can and will function normally – without smashing up the scenery, punching too hard and obliterating minor street gang members, or killing your sexual partners – whenever over-the-top super-abilities do not fit your narrative.

Any character headed into a four-color superhero setting should gain this ability for free as a world law, just as they normally no longer need to worry about having limited power sources – but it’s cheap enough to buy.

Superheroic Durability (6 CP):

Superheroes are very often stunned, knocked out, or injured by their opponents attacks.

Wait. Lets just think about that for a moment. Quite a lot of superheroes are fairly normal people under their battle armor, or force field, or whatever – a lot like a normal soldier sitting in a tank. But looking at attacks on tanks… the vast majority of the time attacks either fail to get through (and leave the crew rattled but basically unscathed) or they wreck the tank and leave the crew dead. When one percent of a weapons impact is more than enough to kill someone you only get injured targets on a hit if something has used up more than 99% of the weapons total energy but still less than 99.99% or so (whatever it takes to get it down below the threshold of serious injury).

That’s a VERY narrow zone. Yet comic book characters with wildly varying defenses engage in quite a lot of combat against wildly varying opponents with all kinds of weapons, and take a fair number of hits, and yet they generally have long survival times.

3.5 and Eclipse handle this by making hit points utterly abstract and damage non-linear. A hit from a Colossal Mace should – by virtue of basic physics – be capable of doing hundreds of thousands of times as much damage as a hit from a 1d8 Medium Mace, yet according to the d20 rules it only does 6d6. That’s as if dropping a can of soup on your foot five times in a row was equivalent to being caught between a high speed loaded truck and a rockface.

Want to consider a nuke? Well, d20 Future tells us that a one-megaton nuke (one of the few weapons on the list that’s actually real and comparable) does 16d8 damage – an average of 72 points. My scaling calculations (from hand-held explosives, but the same article again) tell me that a one-megaton blast would cause either 20 or 21 d6 damage (averaging 70 and 73.5 respectively, or 71.75 together). Alternatively, we can also just go by the standard charts for explosives and weapon sizes – which tell us that a Tiny explosion causing 3d6 damage can be scaled up to a Colossal explosion causing 18d8 damage. That’s remarkably consistent really. As for what it shows us…

  • In d20 each +1 multiplier to your hit point damage represents ten times as much actual physical damage. How does that work? It’s because inflicting injury in d20 is more about convincing your target that they SHOULD be hurt than it is about actual forces that cause physical injury. Because RPG’s are “Let’s Pretend” with rules – and the hit point rules are aimed at convincing the player that their character “should be dead”. There are plenty of mid-level d20 fighter types who can take a nuke to the face without so much as flinching – and can still be wiped out by twenty to thirty blows from a club. Bombs? A bright flash, a loud noise, and a bit of an impact? Why would they believe that something that is over so fast can really hurt them? But a club now… a club is CONVINCING. EVERYONE knows that a club hurts! You learned that as a little kid!

No, that doesn’t make much of any sense from a “realistic” prospective. Because, you know, MAGIC.

Fortunately, this system works just fine for superheroes – but it’s worth noting that Superheroes are knocked out a lot more often than they’re seriously hurt or killed and take even more hits than a low-level 3.5 character can. In the comics… this is usually a version of professional courtesy. “If you restrain yourselves, so will we – because we WILL lose sometimes, and we’d rather get to survive doing so”.

When superheroes do take a serious wound it tends to be quite dramatic though. Ergo, we’ll want to buy…

  • Superhuman Resilience: DR 3/- (affecting both physical and energy damage), Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (9/-) / only to reduce lethal damage to nonlethal damage, bypassed by critical hits (6 CP).

That basically amounts to “I can take twenty times as much damage as a normal person without serious harm, but can be knocked out without incredible difficulty.

Superheroic Build (A.K.A. “The Most Common Power”) (3 CP):

Ever noticed that almost all the major characters in comics look really good? Is that a standard secondary power that comes with everything?

Not really. Standard “superheroic good looks” are a consequence of the medium. Humans tend to see clearly defined and highly symmetrical features, clear skin, an average-to-slim build, and somewhat “generic” features, as indicators for good health and good genes – in other words, an attractive/handsome/beautiful potential mate. There are a lot of nonvisual cues too, but comics are primarily a visual medium.

All of those features turn up in comics simply because comics start off as long sequences of line drawings. That means that making the main characters easier to draw is quite important. Clearly defined features? Line drawing. Highly symmetrical? Far easier to draw in a variety of poses and from various angles. Clear skin? Who wants to waste time and effort drawing skin blemishes? Average build? Easy to draw and lots of sample shots to look at. Somewhat generic features? Helps avoid any accusations of drawing stereotypes AND makes it easy for the audience to accept and identify with the characters. Result: standardized generic good looks. Buy this as…

  • Minor Privilege: Cultivated Appearance. Regardless of their actual Charisma, this character gets to describe themselves as good looking, horrifying, or utterly ordinary as they prefer (3 CP). Yes, pretty much ANY super can get groupies.

Rapid Recovery (3 CP):

Real people break bones, lose blood, and can take a vary long time indeed to recover from very small amounts of damage. Supers, however, recover quickly, rarely suffer lingering effects from their injuries, and wake up again on a moments notice. That’s…

  • Grant of Aid, Specialized/requires at least one minute to activate (3 CP).

That’s not a LOT of recovery – but it’s fairly broad spectrum, will suffice to automatically stabilize a dying character, and will start at the player’s call – so it will wake the character up if he or she is unconscious or something.

Minor Conventions (6 CP):

Given that everyone needs to be readily identifiable, and that drawing costume changes and/or damage complicates things, comic book characters tend to wear their colorful, easily-identifiable, negative stealth modifier, and wholly impractical costumes everywhere (or at least change into them impractically fast). For the same reason they’re virtually never damaged too badly and are good enough for broiling deserts and arctic conditions – although, to be fair, most superheroes seem to shrug off petty inconveniences like “estimated survival time of twenty minutes” anyway.

  • Innate Enchantment, all powers Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP Unlimited-Use Use-Activated. Specialized for Increased Effect (counts as extraordinary abilities, not magic) /
    • Ready for Inspection: Prestidigitation, Only to keep the user clean and neat and help perform quick costume changes (Note that characters with minor signature traits – always chewing on a cigar, having a few jelly babies in a pocket, etc, may count a couple of those as a part of their “costume”) x.5 = 500 GP.
    • Comics Code: Mending, Only to keep the “necessary” bits of the user’s costume in good repair. Thus, men can lose their shirts, but never their pants – unless it’s THAT sort of comic of course. X.25 = 250 GP.
    • It’s Sufficient: Endure Elements , Personal Only (x.7), 2/Day Only (x.4) = 560 GP. Whatever the costume looks like, it’s perfectly comfortable and adequate for all normal earthly climactic conditions.
    • Heroic Will: Protection From Evil, Personal Only (x.7), 3/Day Only (x.6), Only when the GM feels that the user is being compelled to do something against their personal code or otherwise is likely to summon a mighty surge of will to throw off possession/mind control/etc (x.25) = 210 GP.
    • Heroic Rally: Remove Fear, 2/Day Only (x.4), user must make an adequate inspiring speech (x.6) = 480 GP.
    • Coincidental Catch: Feather Fall, 2/Day Only (x.4), activates automatically (x1.5), but only works 50% of the time (x.4) = 480 GP. When a hero falls off a roof or gets dropped, there is a substantial chance that SOMETHING will happen to break his or her fall.
    • Heroic Health: Relieve Illness (from the Hedge Wizardry spell list) 1/Day (x.2), Personal Only (x.7) = 280 GP. Relieve Poison (from the Hedge Wizardry spell list) 1/Day (x.2), Personal Only (x.7) = 280 GP, Lesser Restoration 1/Day (x.2), Personal Only (x.7) = 280 GP. Fast Healing I (from The Practical Enchanter, for 18 rounds, 2/Day (x.4), Personal Only (x.7)) = 560 GP.

This leaves 2100 GP value open – enough for a trio of personal-only cantrips, an as-needed first level spell (even if perpetual healing is banned). Can you evaluate an area at a glance (L1, Sift), perform impressive card tricks (very limited Prestidigitation, L0), be perpetually optimistic (Good Hope, L1), never run out of bullets (Abundant Ammunition, L1), disguise yourself quickly (Disguise, L1), act extremely innocent (Innocence, L1), perform ventriloquism (ventriloquism, L1), look young despite your advanced age (Youthful Appearance, L1), smell poison (Detect Poison, L0), always know True North (Know Direction, L0), have small bonuses on a few skills (Skill Mastery spell template from The Practical Enchanter), always Stabilize when dying? (Stabilize, L0), hold your breath for a long time (Air Bubble, L1), have a knack with animals (Calm or Charm Animal, both L1), ignore movement penalties for difficult terrain (Feather Step, L1), jump well (Jump, L1), have exceptional senses (Keen Senses, L1), leave no tracks (Pass Without Trace, L1), communicate with animals (Speak With Animals, L1), or just swim really well (Touch of the Sea, L1)? Well, here’s a way to add it to your list of attributes as a minor quirk, mostly unrelated to being a super. You don’t have to limit yourself to what’s listed; if you want to always have a pocketful of smoke pellets… well, “produce puff of smoke” is probably a L0 effect.

That’s 24 CP – half of what a first level character gets as a base. And while it doesn’t provide any major powers as of yet… it’s not a bad start. Next up; building a few mutants.


18 Responses

  1. […] Four-Color Package (24 CP). As a Sorceress, she gets her Mana from her Wisdom. […]

  2. […] we’ll want the basic Four Color Package (24 CP) , the Pathfinder Package Deal (Free), and being a Pathfinder Human (Free) as a start. […]

  3. […] Four-Color Package (24 CP). […]

  4. […] Four Color Package (24 CP): […]

  5. […] Four Color Package (24 CP). This includes Superheroic Physics, Superheroic Durability, Superheroic Build, Rapid Recovery, Minor Conventions (Ready for Inspection, Comics Code, It’s Sufficient, Heroic Will, Heroic Rally, Coincidental Catch, Heroic Health, and a some Minor Benefits (in her case three cantrip effects, see below). […]

  6. […] Four-Color Package (24 CP). This includes Superheroic Physics, Superheroic Durability, Superheroic Build, Rapid Recovery, Minor Conventions (Ready for Inspection, Comics Code, It’s Sufficient, Heroic Will, Heroic Rally, Coincidental Catch, Heroic Health, and a some Minor Benefits (in his case three cantrip effects, see below). […]

  7. […] Four Color Package (24 CP): […]

  8. […] Four Color Package (24 CP): […]

  9. […] Four Color Package (24 CP): […]

  10. […] Four Color Package (24 CP): […]

  11. […] Four Color Package (24 CP): […]

  12. […] of them will buy the Four-Color Package, since it covers a lot of the standard comic-book conventions. The occasional “bad-ass normal” […]

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