Monday, March 24, 2014

A Cat, a Reverend, a Doctor and a Vagrant Walk Into a Bar

Let me tell you about the world in the pages of Cat-Man #1 (Publisher Holyoke, May, 1941 The issue has a bunch of larger than life characters: ace reporters, heroic firefighters, and even a cowboy. I'm going to touch on four of them: the Cat-Man, Dr. Diamond, the Deacon, and the Rag Man.

David Merrywhether was traveling in Burma as a child with his parents when they were ambushed by bandits. His parents killed Peter was taken in by a tigress who raised the boy. This association gave Peter strength, speed, and other cat like powers. Furthermore the tigress would appear as a spirit when Cat-Man was badly injured to heal him (the nine lives of a cat.)

The Deacon started out as an unnamed criminal. After informing the police of a robbery that involved murder he was caught in a shoot out between the gang and the cops. Wounded in the arm he fled to a deserted church and found a deacon's suit which he put on. The other members of his gang cornered him there and despite his injuries and former lack of courage he defeated them in a vicious brawl. He became the Deacon and adopted a young boy named Mickey whom he found also fleeing a gang.

Dr. Drake Gorden was lost in a shipwreck and washed ashore on a mysterious island. There a giant eagle (!) flew him to its master, a mysterious monks. He gave Dr. Gorden a black diamond that supposedly gave him the strength of fifty men and a red airplane to get back to America.

Rag Man was originally Jay Garson who wrote a newspaper column exposing racketeers. The gangster lured him to a deserted park with a phone call telling him his fiancee was in a car accident. At the park Garson met a homeless man who was a dead ringer for him. The gangster thought so too and shot the the homeless man who died in Garson's arms. Garson switched clothes with him letting the world think Garson was dead. As the Rag Man Garson waged a war on the gangsters while continuing to publish his column for a thoroughly confused editor (who didn't mind the boost to circulation.)

How do you get super powers in this world? They all seem to have a spiritual or mystical component. The Cat-Man has a spirit tiger who resurrects him for gosh sakes. The Deacon finds his fighting spirit in a church. Dr. Diamond gets a mystic diamond. Rag Man takes on the identity of a man slain before his eyes to become an avenging ghost like figure. Other heroes can have an animal spirit to empower them or be born of tragedy or divine calling.

What is the nature and scope of super powers? No one is bullet proof. Cat-Man and Dr. Diamond are the strongest of the characters but they can be stunned by a blow to the head with a pipe or heavy tool. The 'normal' human character, the Deacon, shows amazing fighting skills being able to fight and take down several armed men at once.

I'd represent super strength and skill with the standard 1-4 die cliches. Super strength allows a character to roll lower numbers for various feats. For example, in issue 1 the Cat-Man holds up a collapsing bridge (actually it looks more like braces a crucial support beam weighing  a couple tons) until a repair crew can set up braces. For a person with a cliche like Athlete or Football Player or Big Dumb Guy they might have to roll a 30 or 35 or 40. Cat-Man's Tiger Prowess (4) means he has to only roll a 20 (he still had to pump it and use a Lucky Shot die.)

Extraordinary fighters like the Deacon have 4 dice in that cliche and stand a chance in a brawl against Cat-Man. Still it won't be an even fight. Most thugs will have 1-2 dice in a brawling or combat cliche while exceptional henchmen and bosses will have a 3-4 and be a real threat. Most ordinary citizens will have to use the Anybody Can Play rules. A gang of goons would be about 2-3 dice in the appropriate cliche. A brawl is assumed to cover the use of guns, knives, clubs and fists. Guns don't seem to give most heroes a bad time and are merely another tool of the trade.

Cliches for the setting
Adventurer (piloting a small plane, ship, or sailboat, traveling safely through jungles, deserts etc. speaking a smidgin of nearly any 'trade' language.)

Mystery Man (brawling, climbing, swooping, running on roofs, making a dramatic appearance, breaking and entering, spotting a clue.)

Sleuth (trailing a suspect, finding an informant, researching a background, telling whether a mook is lying.)

Strong Man (lifting huge weights (several tons), smashing in steel doors and machinery, fighting robots and giant robots, jumping huge distances, surviving anything short of molten lava or disintegration.)

With those cliches and the power levels sketched out here are the four Holyoke heroes in Risus terms:

The Cat-Man
Strong Man (3) (Swimming, leaping, and climbing feats beyond human ability, lifting several tons.)
Cat Senses (3) (Seeing in darkness, incredible hearing and sense of smell, sharp eyesight.)
Adventurer (2)
Lucky Shots (3)
Questing Dice (5) Return from dead. Whenever Cat-Man is taken out by a lethal attack he may spend a Questing Die to be restored to consciousness the next round. Any cliches that were reduced are raised to half their value.

Cat-Man's Strong Man is his go to cliche in a fight. Instead of a detective cliche he uses his keen senses (3) while constantly patrolling for clues (and Lucky Shots for blind assed luck.) A superb fighter may still be able to take him on and he is not by any means bullet proof. If you play with backgrounds and hooks he can invest one die in Strong Man and one die in his sidekick, Katie (Kitten) Conn, who appeared in Cat-Man #4. David gets the Hook of being Kitten's guardian.
Mystery Girl  (3)

The Deacon
Mystery Man (4)
Confessor (3) (Hearing a person's story, inspiring them to be better people, learning of the crimes they committed.)
Sleuth (3)
Lucky Shots (3)

Mystery Boy (3)

The Deacon is pretty straightforward. He takes the hook of Mickey's guardian since the kid was with him from the go.

The Rag Man
Sleuth (4)
Mystery Man (3)
'Ghost' (3) (Frightening people, baffling editors, passing unseen)
Questing Dice (5) Surviving death (Rag Man can use these dice similar to Cat-Man's nine lives.)

Brawling (3)

The Rag Man uses his tattered appearance to appear like a vagrant, largely ignored. His appearance can also be very unsettling whether from his reputation or the fact that that bum suddenly pulled a gun on you. Apparently he can turn this fear off when he wants to be be unnoticed. A lot of crooks who fear him like the angel of death for his sudden appearances and vicious attacks. Unlike the other heroes Rag Man often carries and uses a pistol and has no qualms about killing criminals. Tiny, his chauffeur, confidant and body guard was mostly used to drive the car and beat up the bigger meaner thugs. But doesn't seem like the mystery man type. He is also a very racist cliche. I chose to keep him and concentrate on his positive attributes. He's brave to a fault, has unquestioning loyalty and let Garson have his apartment and money back (which Jay left him in a will) when it turned out he wasn't dead.