DC ADVENTURES Design Journal #3

Making the Grade

One of the things we knew the DC Adventures Hero’s
Handbook
would include was a
selection of DC characters, both heroes and villains, to get players started
and to provide gamemasters with some resources and examples. The big question
was:
which heroes and villains?
It was a process of putting together a list of the best characters we could fit
into a limited amount of space, given we had room for basically fourteen hero
write-ups and the same number of villains.

The Brave & the Bold

We started with the heroes. The no-brainer was to include
the “Magnificent Seven,” the founding members of the Justice League:
Aquaman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Superman
, and Wonder Woman. That was half of our heroes right there.

We decided to go with the most iconic versions of the
characters. That meant a beardless Aquaman
(with both of his original hands),
Barry Allen as the Flash and Hal Jordan as Green
Lantern
(although other Flashes and Green
Lanterns show up in
Heroes
& Villains, Vol. I
).

We considered the other seven heroes. Should we try and
round things out with some Teen Titans
or
Outsiders? It would be tight
and wouldn’t leave much room for anyone else. No, this really
had to be the A-list, the most iconic and well-known DC
heroes, who also provided a good mix of character types and examples.

Green Arrow is both a
major comic book archetype and core member of the
JLA, so he was in. That made Black Canary a natural addition, providing some additional “girl
power” as well as another unarmed fighter to match with
Batman. We did get one teen hero with Robin,
since we could hardly have
Batman without
his famous sidekick. Although
Dick Grayson has the longest history as Robin, we decided Tim Drake
was the most “iconic” of the Robins these days.
Dick Grayson makes it in there as Nightwing, bringing us up to eleven heroes.

The rest were rounding out some niches: Plastic Man made it in as a great example of a shapeshifting
hero.
Captain Marvel provides
some comparison and contrast
with Superman, Wonder Woman, and the other physically powerful heroes, as well
as a look at handling a hero with a secret identity who is a whole different
person! Lastly, we wanted a magical hero.
Dr. Fate was one of the contenders, naturally, but we
ultimately decided to go with
Zatanna because she: 1) Had a less involved history than Dr. Fate; 2) Was not as cosmically powerful, but still very
capable; 3) Fit into the largely
Justice League group of heroes better, and; 4) Added another woman
to the roster.

Speaking of power, one thing we wanted the sample heroes in
the Hero’s Handbook to do was provide
benchmarks for players, gamemasters, and designers of the game, so they could
look at, say,
Superman‘s Strength
or
Batman‘s Investigation skill
and use them to gauge where their own characters should fall on the scale. So
the first thing we did was come up with power levels for all of the heroes in
the book:

Aquaman (12), Batman (12), Black Canary (10),
Captain Marvel (15), Flash (12), Green Arrow (10), Green Lantern (14), Martian Manhunter (14), Nightwing (10), Plastic Man (11), Robin (8), Superman (15), Wonder Woman (15), and Zatanna (11)

You might immediately think
that DC’s “trinity” of Batman, Superman, and
Wonder Woman should all be power
level 20, the very top of the scale, right? After all, they
are the world’s greatest heroes. So why are they “only”
power levels 12, 15, and 15 (respectively) and why is
Batman, of all people, a lower power level than the other two?

A lot of it is in
understanding what power level is and what it’s used for. All power level does
is provide a guideline for players to follow in creating and improving their DC Adventures heroes, and it gives an
idea of the kind of capabilities, particularly combat capabilities, you can
expect from a character. On the other hand, consider the power point totals for
the “trinity”: They’re all within just 4 points of each other, and all of them
at values close to the recommended starting points for power level 19!

Thus, many of the characters
in DC Adventures have broader and
“deeper” capabilities than their mere power level may indicate. For all his
amazing abilities, Batman is still a mortal, without superhuman powers. It’s
impressive that his power level is as close as it is to two of the mightiest
beings on Earth!

Villainy Unleashed

With the heroes set, it was time to bring on the bad guys.
We wanted to have a good cross-section, along with major archenemies for most
of the heroes. That gave us an immediate “must have” list: Lex Luthor, the
Joker, Cheetah, Sinestro, Black Adam,
and Black
Manta
. We also wanted perhaps the DC
Universe’s biggest villain,
Darkseid,
as a given. That still left seven spots to fill and, admittedly, we looked to
the foes of DC’s trinity (
Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) for some of them. We added Brainiac, Catwoman, and Circe to the list.

Gorilla Grodd won a
spot for several reasons, he: 1) is a
Flash villain (and perhaps the most unusual one); 2) has
mental powers, which we hadn’t touched on, and; 3) is a gorilla, and it’s hard
to deny the appeal of a gorilla.

Our remaining three villains were more general characters to
round out the list: Vandal Savage (a
villain who has fought just about everyone in the DCU at some point
),
Solomon Grundy
(for sheer brute-force
power), and
Prometheus, one of
the higher power level foes (able to take on the whole
Justice League), made even more suitable (and villainous) by his
role in
Justice League: Cry for Justice.

How high power level, you ask? It came out looking like
this:

Black Adam (16), Black Manta (10), Brainiac (13), Catwoman (10), Cheetah (12), Circe (14), Darkseid (16), Gorilla
Grodd
(12), The Joker (11), Lex Luthor (14), Prometheus (14), Sinestro (14), Solomon Grundy
(14),
Vandal Savage (13).

Darkseid and Black
Adam
tied for highest power level
characters in the book, although
Darkseid wins out in terms of point total (weighing-in at about 30 power points
more than
Black Adam).

Now that you know all the characters profiles in the Hero’s
Handbook,
next up we’ll give you a more
detailed look at one of them. Which one? Check back with us next week…

All
characters, their distinctive likenesses, and related elements are trademarks
of DC Comics © 2010. All rights reserved.

Steve Kenson

Steve Kenson has been an RPG author and designer since 1995 and has worked on numerous book and games, including Mutants & Masterminds, Freedom City, and Blue Rose for Green Ronin Publishing. He has written nine RPG tie-in novels and also runs his own imprint, Ad Infinitum Adventures, which publishes material for Icons Superpowered Roleplaying. Steve maintains a website and blog at www.stevekenson.com.

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