Thursday, February 3, 2011


Some years ago my friend Allen of RavenFeast coined the term 'Gods in Long Underwear' to describe the genre of Comic Book Superheroes.

The meaning of the phrase is obvious but the tone and intent is slightly negative or at the very least satirical. He, and others in my NJ group, are not huge fans of American superhero comics.

While they do enjoy a well done Superhero movie, TV series or animated cartoon, the comics themselves seem to be a bit outside their zone of interest. This makes running a superhero RPG somewhat difficult. In the past, I've only made one attempt to run a Supers RPG with the Jersey gang and the results were...interesting.

Allen, the biggest advocate against to some degree, seemed to be one of the players having the most fun. He fought well and chewed the scenery as First Prefect, a very cool variant of the classic 'Superman' character who was a military officer in an alien army of similar flying, invulnerable warriors. A stasis pod containing him and little else was found adrift in space by Astronauts. Prefect can't find his homeworld or any recognizable places on our starcharts. We have no idea where he came from and hold long he was in stasis.

Our pal Nelson once described First Prefect as follows, "What if General Zod was actually an ok guy and it was he who was rocketed to Earth. He's end up being First Prefect."

Nelson, a tried and true veteran of many a Supers game, played The Metropolitan. Similar to Batman and the Midnighter, this character's gadgets and vehicles, as well as how he handled his understanding of and connection to the city was astounding. My favorite was his 'Metroliner', a customized, Batmobile-ish subway car that could zoom through the train tunnels beneath New York.

Rob created the most awesome Spiderman inspired characters I've seen in twenty years...The Gecko! Able to stick to walls and possessing long, red, prehensile hair (resembling the gecko's tongue), Gecko was your typical 'Is He Friendly Neighborhood Hero, Threat or Menace?' The player was fantastic at playing up the guy's secret identity, a struggling, middle class shmoe dating a rich, beautiful gal who happened to be the daughter of his media nemesis, a network news producer and media maven.

Lynn played Fantasia, a magically powered female shapeshifter who could only become mythical creatures (Dragon, Unicorn, Manticore, Griffon, etc.).

Ken played Glitch, a blue furred alien who caused technology in his presence to freak out and malfunction. Imagine a cross between a Gremlin, the X-Men's Beast and Stitch from 'Lilo and Stitch'.

My ex-wife Selina played Witch Hazel, a last minute addition to the game and one of her first forays into playing with a group. She had a bit of trouble getting into the character who was a bit of a Scarlet Witch/Zatanna type but actually much more interesting in my opinion (ok, maybe about the same as Zatanna. I love me some Zatanna!). Since she had only played D&D up to that point it was hard to wrap her head around comic book magic and she focused on very D&D like spells that put her at a disadvantage when compared to the more versatile villains. She would later play Mutants & Masterminds and rock it severely. Experience makes all the difference.

Last but not least was Rebecca...well, that's not entirely accurate. Rebecca is one of the best players I know but I didn't feel she really got the superhero genre. I think she may have felt out of her element. Her character was a telekinetic named Hammer. I quickly devised, with her input, that she had been a member of a black ops. superteam called Project: Toolbox. Things went sour on their last mission and Level, Wrench and Ratchet were killed. Hammer survived, left the secret government base and became a Superhero. Nail (her brother or ex-boyfriend or something) became a villain. Screwdriver went missing and his whereabouts were unknown. It was a neat little story but didn't do much to give the character a real focus during the game.

The system we used was
Deeds Not Words, one of the unsung heroes of the D20 Superhero RPG phenomena. It was one of the first to use the D20 system and it had some very innovative ideas. Classes seemed very distinct, thought to emulate your favorite comic book hero you might have to multiclass. I liked how you could start the game more powerful, getting close to a Thor or Superman type, by oweing the GM experience points. XP Debit would be paid back as you adventure. This meant Batman types would raise in skill much quicker than Superman types but hey, you're Superman. You can throw a bus!

It was a fun game, though a bit rough around the edges. If we every do try to run it again, or superheroes in general with the NJ group, I would want to do things a bit differently and have the PCs gain more of a clear understanding of their abilities and their goal in the adventure.

Barking Alien


  1. Hm, never heard of Deeds Not Words. Sounds interesting, I'll have to check it out. I can't wait for my copy of 4C to come in the mail. I think I'll try and do a Superboy/Legion type story line for my son (who loves Superboy and the Legion).

  2. I highly recommend checking DNW out, if not for actual use than for ideas, possible kitbashing with other D20 based Superhero games and the fan-freaking-tastic art of the amazing Darren Calvert ('DMAC') who now illustrates for several games, most notably Mutants and Masterminds.

    I'm a huge Legion fan myself. Let me know how it turns out.

  3. Love your illustrations of the characters. They are very professional! We here were always big super hero players but that's mostly cause my gang were power gamers and always liked to see if they could out do each other. My own character was Professor Mole, Mole not the animal but the unit of measurement, he was one of those getting small type superheroes.

    Lazarus Lupin
    art and review

  4. Very Neat Lazarus!

    I can't take credit for these illustrations. They were done by players of mine.

    Superheroes is a very fertile and expansive genre. There is so much you can do with it even though so much has been done.

  5. Oh I like the sound of Project Toolbox...that little nugget alone has some of my wheels turning.

    It's amazing sometimes how much a simple description and an illustration can do to make a concept come to life. I like all of those above.

    I may steal your old campaign name as the title of a famous book on supers in Atomic City, maybe a documentary, have to think about that. I like the idea of it on a marquee.

  6. @Blacksteel - Funny you should say that.

    I have my own comic book universe that I've been drawing little comics of or writing short stories about since I was in 1st grade.

    In one story, their is a book called, "The Gods Wear Long Underwear", obviously taken from Allen's phrase, that is similar to "Under The Hood" from Watchmen. Basically its the autobiography of a retired superhero and his life as a masked crimefighter.