The Batmen Of The Eclipse

And for today, it’s a question…

The Rules for creating superheroes leave me a little ofput (unsure?) about how to create some archetypes.

How would you create a version of Batman that could have his level of success in his superhero career while remaining on concept?

How would you create someone like Iron Man, who uses modular powers (something I got the impression was more difficult and silly on unlimited usage abilities)?

I am also curious as to what those example characters sheets would look like.

-Jirachi

Of the two, Batman is the most awkward – so the first segment will be about him.

The really awkward part about Batman is that Batman doesn’t stay true to his concept to begin with. He didn’t even consistently progress from one concept to another even before the New 52 apparently turned him into an ancient supernatural being of some sort.

So what are some of the major Batman concepts? Well, first up we have…

Pulp Crimefighter Batman:

This is the original Batman – a Pulp Hero along the lines of Doc Savage, the Spider, Zorro, or (especially) the Black Bat. He used a wide variety of gadgets, his secret wealth, martial arts skills, and (depending on the writer) some body armor to fight fairly normal crooks. Taking a look at his personal rogues gallery we find…

The Falcone, Maroni, and other Crime Families, Boss Thorne, Mayor Hill, Commissioner Pauling, assorted mobsters, The Joker. The Riddler. Two-Face. The Penguin. The Mikado. Copperhead, Catwoman. Hush. the Scarecrow. Professor Hugo Strange. The Black Mask I and II. The Mad Hatter. The Ventriloquist and Scarface (his doll). The Red Hood. Mister Zsasz. Firefly. Harley Quinn. Catman. King Tut, Killer Moth. Abbatoir. Anarky, and many more.

Looking them over we see that the vast, VAST, majority of Batman’s villains from his own books have no special powers beyond criminal tendencies, questionable sanity (or sometimes a complete lack thereof), an affection for particular themes, and occasional unique gadgets. Quite a few of them don’t even have the “theme” or “gadget” part; they’re simply ruthless mobsters with plenty of money, guns, and thugs.

I’m not sure whether Mister Freezes tolerance for cold (and dying if he gets warm), Rag Dolls double-jointed flexibility, or Deadshot being a REALLY good shot, count as super-powers, but even if they do they’re certainly not very impressive ones.

A much smaller subgroup started popping up after Batman’s victories over normal people and normal-people-with-some- weird-gadget got a bit too expected. They’re villains with relatively minor super-strength and / or animalistic abilities, such as Amygdala, Bane, Killer Croc, Man-Bat, and so on – sufficiently superhuman to fight a really skilled human with some gadgets on fairly equal terms without having a lot of training and gadgets themselves.

At other times, they gave Bats an inexperienced kid to protect – allowing Robin to be a point of vulnerability – but that’s more of an editorial decision than an attribute of Batman’s.

A very, VERY, few of his usual rogues have actual superhuman powers – Poison Ivy (Toxin Immunity and Plant Control), Clayface (Shapeshifting – athough there have apparently been at least eight different Clayfaces), Solomon Grundy (basically a golem), the Ratcatcher (controls rats), Orca (turns into a “killer whale”, generally in the water), The Mortician (makes minor zombies), and so on. He also seems to draw a lot of Vampires and the occasional Werewolf, but they’re rarely very powerful ones – and it’s not like playing Buffy the Vampire Slayer requires a lot of power by superheroic standards. Most vampire and werewolf hunters are normal people with a grudge.

You’ll note that – at least if he was ruthless enough – you could give The Flash a list and a knife and expect him to search the city and virtually eliminate Pulp Crimefighter Batman’s entire rogues gallery in about ten seconds. That’s also why Batman soon started to be against guns, knives, and similar weapons; if he used lethal force he’d run through his villains far too fast – and he’d soon become the Punisher rather than a detective type.

That’s not a problem in games by the way; games won’t have nearly as many sessions as Batman has comic book appearances, and so games can afford to let the characters kill off most of their villains.

In Batman-centered comics, there are lots of fairly ordinary humans who are better than Batman in particular fields, or who put up quite a struggle in the battle of wits. or who are fabulously good at martial arts, or who sometimes beat him for a while – and they quite often succeed in killing quite a few of the people that Batman is trying to protect. At this end… Batman fails or gets wounded a lot.

Pulp Crimefighter Batman is remarkably skilled, fights really well (but not so well that a group of decent thugs can’t put up a good fight against him), has a rather limited range of weird gadgets, a very strong will, and puts a lot of emphasis on being sneaky and scary. For this kind of character I’d probably just use the Advanced Pulp Hero Template (Advanced Pulp Powers, More Advanced Pulp Powers, Drugs, and Archetypes, Vehicles (for the Batmobile), and Narrative Feats) – perhaps trading out the boost with Guns for a boost with Batarangs. Give him a couple of levels focusing on detective work and martial arts, a few gadgets (if you want him to be able to pull out a gadget to suit the situation take either Equipage with Purchasing OR a couple of Inherent Spells / Greater Invocation (see The Practical Enchanter) / Technological Effects I and II, and a few bonus uses OR Foresight and Dream-Binding. Any of those will let him pull stuff out that he never mentioned getting and very likely will never pull out again. Throw in Privilege (Wealth) and a Sanctum (The Batcave) and you pretty much have the build.

Pulp Crimefighter Batman doesn’t actually need the Superheroic World Template or continuous / unlimited use powers – although they do make it easier to bump him up above the civilians

It doesn’t take great intellect to tackle street crime. Luck and timing are the operative skills. No, what interests me…is the fact that he functions as a lightning rod for a certain breed of psychotic. They specialize in absurdly grandiose schemes, and whatever the ostensible rationale–greed, revenge, the seizure of power…their true agenda is always the same: to cast Batman in the role of Nemesis. Hence the puns, the riddles, the flagrant clues they scatter in their collective wake–daring their foe to penetrate the obvious. He always triumphs. If he failed, they’d be bereft. The Pas De Deux would have no point. Like naughty children, who tempt the wrath of a stern, demanding father… they seek only to shock him by the enormity of their transgressions. It’s the moment of acknowledgment they crave. Thus “good” conquers “evil”. True evil seldom announces itself so loudly. The dangerous ones set their subversive goals, and achieve them, bit by bit…invisibly, inevitably. They have no taste for theater. While Batman busies himself with petty thieves and gaudy madmen, an abyss of rot yawns even wider at his feet.

-Henri Ducard

Next up, however, we come to…

Action Movie Batman:

Action Movie Batman tends to appear in low-level team books. where Batman gets surrounded by people with low-level powers and (as by far the most famous and iconic character), inevitably, becomes the leader of the team if he didn’t form it in the first place. Action Movie Batman almost never fails at disarming a bomb or analyzing some weird substance, or tracing a vehicle, or anything else when it’s really critical, he’s prepared for any eventuality, and he’s a skilled enough martial artist to take down small armies of thugs and midrange superhuman combatants. He knows everything he really needs to, he almost never misses a clue, and he has all kinds of vehicles and things.

This version of Batman builds on Pulp Crimefighter Batman with – in d20 terms – two or three more levels. He definitely has the “pull stuff out” trick, and almost certainly has some Luck, an extra Pulp Feat or two, and a bit of extra damage on his martial arts (although he usually chooses to do nonlethal damage). He may even have gone past the Pulp Narrative Feats to buy Narrative Powers or have a bit of Innate Enchantment to add some low-grade continuous boosts to his skills and attributes.

If the world is using the Superheroic World Template – a street level heroes game certainly does not have to be – he might have a selection of more powerful boosts. On the upper end of this range he might even have the Double Enthusiast and Create Relic combo to let him build special “mad science” gizmos to meet unique problems. That’s a bit much for most games though.

In any case, Action Movie Batman has often graduated from solo adventures to joining a party and has moved on to more powerful enemies. He’s still not overtly superhuman – but no real human being has ever been that good at that many different things.

In a lot of ways, this is the “Best” Batman, at least from a gaming point of view and – at least according to the reactions I’ve seen – in the comics. He’s a creditable hero, shows that (at least given the kind of training and gear you can get in a superhero universe) a relatively normal human can still have an impact, remains focused on a reasonably comprehensible stage (usually a city or small region with occasional trips beyond that), and still has room for useful input from a supporting cast of normal people. He can still afford to get hurt and even lose sometimes, so his victories are not entirely foregone conclusions. Not too surprisingly, this is the version of Batman that shows up in most of the movies that focus on him.

And that is why you should take a look over HERE.

 The Ultimate Batmen:

When it comes to high-level team books – like the Justice League – we see three basic variations on Batman. There’s I-Have-A-Bat-Plan Batman, Cosmic Narrative Batman, and the Ultimate Two-For-One-Combo-Deal Batman.

I-Have-A-Bat-Plan-Batman is the version that justifies ideas like “Batman’s biggest power is an area effect no normal defense intelligence drain”. You ever notice how, when he’s surrounded by literal super geniuses who can think thousands of times faster than a human… he so often gets asked one version or another of “What shall we do Batman”? And how even the most cunning opponents suddenly start acting like idiots when they’re up against him?

This is the version that takes Batman up to near omniscience, lets him analyze incredible alien super-technology and rebuild it to adapt it to his needs in in minutes or hours, gives him plans to take down pretty much any possible target (including his allies) that will all work properly, and has him giving directions to everyone because they apparently wouldn’t have any idea of what to do without him. He always wins in the end because everyone else is inexplicably incompetent.

After all, he has to. When the cost of losing often ranges from vast destruction to the total annihilation of the Earth… it’s not like having the bank robbers, drug pushers, or minor villains getting away. Losing would drastically alter the setting – making it very difficult to write and sell next months comic books. And when you don’t actually have the power to affect events directly, all you can do is provide plans, press buttons, and build gadgets.

The only way to really buy this is to give him a few Occult Senses – “How to Win” and “How to Make This Work”, Reality Editing (to provide setups and backups as needed), and to use Mana from the Superheroic World Template (pretty much a given for this Batman) to allow him to pull out whatever he needs to make his plans work.

Sadly, while this sort of character can be fun to read about – as you watch the plans unfold and marvel at the (writers) cleverness – in game terms this version of Batman has pretty much got an “I Win!” button built into his utility belt. Even worse, in a game this leaves nothing for the player to do except listen as the game master describes how the characters win. I’d really recommend against trying to play this version of Batman. Sure, you can build it – but why bother?

Cosmic Narrative Batman is the blatant Mary Sue / Marty Stu Batman – because when a story is focusing on fight scenes with cosmic villains then Batman has to be right in there mixing it up with them or he might as well not even be in the book. Trouble is, if one of those cosmic villains ever lands a real attack on him… he’s vapor. Ergo, for one reason or another they don’t take him seriously (despite the blatant stupidity of that given his track record), or don’t target him, or just keep missing, or he has some secret gadget that lets him live, or he has super power armor on today. He aces skill-based tasks because that’s his special power just like Hercules has Strength and has ways to target everyone else’s weaknesses because if he didn’t… he wouldn’t be able to contribute, much less co-star. He provides superb plans using other people’s powers because otherwise there are a lot of villains he could not reasonably do anything about.

What confirms his Mary Sue / Marty Stu status is simply that Batman is still alive after MANY such confrontations, instead of being dead like the tens of thousands of other well-trained, driven, well-equipped, intelligent, but essentially normal heroes that obviously would have gone up against each of those cosmic menaces before him. Superman may be the near-unique last son of a seriously exotic world, but pulp heroes show up all over the place.

To make this work… you want everything that Action Movie Hero Batman has plus a MASSIVE dose of Narrative Powers and Reality Editing. Enough to pretty much bend any situation until it revolves around him and his inevitable victory, no matter how nonsensical that is.

Or, of course, Batman can be inserted into a story due to editorial decisions in an attempt to use a popular character to boost sales and have the writers on his side, but – in a game – that’s the same thing as a massive dose of narrative powers.

And once again… this can be fun to read about (although I think that the inevitability of the outcome undermines things considerably) – but it’s incredibly boring when you’re playing a game.

Finally, of course, the Two-For-One-Combo-Deal “Ultimate” Batman just takes everything that the other versions have and combines it, thus obtaining ultimate boredom.

These versions do blend into each other along the scale – but a hero who gets shot up by thugs, or has a hard time with Firefly (a pyromaniac with an insulated suit and incendiary weapons), The Mad Hatter (a nut with a hypno-hat), or The Penguin (and his trick umbrella) really has no business fighting cosmic menaces – whereas characters who can put up a good fight against those cosmic menaces should not have a hard time with mortal idiots. After all… if a skilled commando-type is a serious danger to Batman, and Batman is a serious danger to Darkseid, then a commando-type should have a small chance to take out Darkseid. Yet despite Darkseid being a major target for half the universe… he’s still around. This does not work.

Nebezial, on Deviant Art, probably summed this up best…

I COULD write up a character who functioned like generic Batman – giving him or her some base abilities, plus some more Corrupted (only usable when opponents are low-grade superhumans or better), some more Specialized (only usable when opponents are mid-level superhumans or better), and even more Specialized and Corrupted (only usable when opponents are high-end superhumans or better) so that pretty much any level of opponent can be a challenge but virtually nothing is overwhelming – but it would be incredibly complicated and there really isn’t any point. If a game is going to feature opponents of a particular level of power it’s much simpler and more efficient to just build a character to suit – and if it’s going to feature opponents of wildly differing power levels and the game master still wants them to be on roughly even terms with the characters… it’s much simpler to just build all the characters normally, leave the statistics alone, and vary the description of what’s going on to suit the current effective power level.

Now, for some more-or-less Batman-like characters to swipe bits from we have…

If you have something in particular in mind do let me know – but defining what your desired version of Batman is has to come before trying to build it! Next time around it will be Iron Man – although Doctor Wrath, above, already covers a good deal of that.

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