How to Make Super Heroes That Suck

I recently discovered 4-Color Heroes, a retro-clone of the old TSR Game, Marvel Super Heroes. I mentioned before that MSH was one of the first RPGs I ever played, and even though we never actually read the rules, we played the shit out of that thing. We had a blast making up our own heroes to do battle with the top players in the Marvel Universe (it was so satisfying to punch Cyclops in the face).

The coolest thing about MSH, which 4C-Heroes has retained, is the ability to make completely random characters/heroes. Random stupid characters bring a nostalgic tear to my eye: my very first character's only "powers" were lust-inducing pheromones and a boomerang. Seriously. It could just as easily have been a guy who could stick to walls and fart rainbows. No game balance, no logic, just roll some dice, spit out a bunch of random stats and powers, then try to explain how the fuck it works.

To be fair, this is probably how most comic book writers and artists create characters.

To test out the 4C game, I started rolling up some characters, with hilariously terrible results. I decided to share them with you, so you too can be revel in the craptasticness.

Origin: Skilled Human (ie, a dude who gains his powers through training/study.)

Fighting: Typical (6)
Agility: Good (10)
Strength: Good (10)
Endurance: Typical (6)
Reason: Incredible (40)
Intuition: Incredible (40)
Psyche: Remarkable (30)

Health 32
Karma: 110
Resources: Remarkable (30)
Popularity: 20

Magic - Feeble (1)

So here we have a guy with perfectly average human fighting ability and endurance, and only slightly above-average agility and strength. His reason, intuition and psyche are at or slightly above the maximum of normal human range. Even better, he is also quite wealthy, and pretty popular for a starting hero. And he has magic! Magic, one of the rarest and most powerful abilities in the game, allowing him to recreate any other super power at will: flight, energy blasts, super healing, ANYTHING. Only one problem...

...I rolled the absolute lowest possible score for his magic ability. He is literally Harry Potter BEFORE he started at Hogwarts.

BACKSTORY: Maurice was a shrewd businessman and a professional illusionist/magician. He even has his own television show on cable, though his ratings sucked. Still, he was dedicated, and spent years mastering the art of illusion, and studied so feverishly that he accidentally discovered REAL magic, through a dusty old manuscript that he thought would finally teach him the secrets to the "coin behind the ear" trick. Unfortunately, without a true teacher, he was never able to do anything spectacular (in fact his "fake" tricks were a lot more impressive), so he never much pursued his gift, and just considered his abilities a fluke. Until, one day during a show, he discovered a rival magician - SIMON, THE SPECTACULAR SORCERER - backstage trying to steal the secrets to his tricks. Maurice ran him off, and attempted to cast one of his true spells on him. The spell of course missed by a mile, but by chance or fate it happened to hit one of the thieves who were robbing the bank across the street. The "fireball" was of course only mildly discomforting to the crook (it felt more like a cozy blanket), but the spell startled him enough that the would-be villain stepped out into the street and was run over by a bus. Suddenly, Maurice was a hero, and he used his new found fame to draw attention to his show and make big money. His fame as a crime fighter draws regular requests from people seeking aid, but because his powers have not improved any, he is loath to do any real super-heroing.

: Changed Human (ie, a dude who gains his powers through outside forces.)

Fighting: Amazing (50)
Agility: Excellent (20)
Strength: Incredible (40)
Endurance: Excellent (20)
Reason: Remarkable (30)
Intuition: Remarkable (30)
Psyche: Remarkable (30)

Health: 130
Karma: 90
Resources: Amazing (50)
Pop: 41

Super Leap - Remarkable (30)

Okay, now we have a guy with decent stats across the board! Amazing fighting ability and great strength, not too shabby for a guy who kicks ass for a living. And has for his powers, well! He can JUMP. And he's really famous. Those are his powers, in their entirety.

BACKSTORY: Admiral Kangaroo was born Lionel Lyons, a rich kid from upstate New York who had everything handed to him on a silver platter. He planned to coast through life on his trust fund, until a strange event at a zoo changed his life forever. One day, when Lionel was visiting the zoo with his bratty cousins, a young kangaroo escaped from his cage and mauled the rich douchebag, putting him into a coma.

Unbeknownst to Lionel, a few weeks before an accident near the zoo resulted in a transport truck dumping a load of toxic waste into the sewers. At the same time, a mommy kangaroo was giving birth in the facility. The zookeeper assisting at the delivery dropped the slimy newborn (he only got the job because his uncle was the night manager) and it rolled into a drain, into the sewer and somehow ended up falling into the radioactive sludge in the dank tunnels below. The baby joey was fished out and was nursed back to health, but it suddenly started growing at an alarming rate, reaching full maturity within days, and leading to its eventual butt-kicking of Lionel. After the attack, when Lionel awoke a month later, he had the strength, fighting and leaping abilities of a true outback kangaroo.

Like so.

He took the name Admiral Kangaroo (because an Admiral is better than a Captain), and is now a major celebrity, regularly appearing on the cover of tabloid magazines and attending movie premiers and other black tie events with super heroines on his arm.

Yeah, that's a stupid back story, but a stupid character deserves no better.

: Robot (ie, a dude... who's a robot.)

Fighting: Typical (6)
Agility: Excellent (20)
Strength: Remarkable (30)
Endurance: Incredible (40)
Reason: Feeble (1)
Intuition: Remarkable (30)
Psyche: Typical (6)

Health: 96
Karma: 37
Resources: Feeble (1)
Popularity: 0

Super Leap - Excellent (20)
Phasing - Incredible (40)

Ooh, a Robot, neat. Lousy fighting ability, and dumb as a rock, though oddly his intuition is very high (kinda like that guy from The Green Mile). Maybe his memory has been wiped, but he has excellent sensors to perceive the world around him? He has no cash (that's okay, what does a robot need with money?) and no popularity (an automatic flaw for robot characters).

For powers we have super leap (what, again?), a sidekick (WTF?) and phasing. I can work with this.

BACKSTORY: Little Timmy Thomas was playing in a quarry near his grandmother's house one day when he discovered something strange: a big-ass metal robot. It had been buried in the gravel for a long time, but with great perseverance Timmy was able to dig it out. He found a button on the back of its head and pushed it, which reactivated the machine. The robot cannot remember his name or where he came from, so Timmy named him Dirt Bucket, cause duh, he found him in a pile of dirt. Dirt Bucket is sentient and free-willed, though he is incredibly stupid, and damage to his neural pathways makes him nearly incapable of remembering anything. Still, he gets along well with Timmy. The boy first used him to combat bullies, but soon upgraded to fighting crime. (You're a kid with a robot - what are you going to do with it?) With his piston-powered legs, Dirt Bucket can chase down bad guys by leaping on them from great distances. Oddly, the robot is also able to walk through walls. While Timmy thinks this is really awesome, he fails to recognize the implications of such unnatural abilities; the robot is probably of extraterrestrial origin, and the aliens who own it are surely going to come looking for it sometime...

So there we have it. Maurice the Mesmerizing, Admiral Kangaroo, and Dirt Bucket, working together to form the lamest superhero group of all time (outside of Excalibur, or maybe Alpha Flight). Can't you picture the conflict and riveting conversation between the group? Maurice, who has shitty powers and doesn't really want to be a superhero anyway; Kangaroo, who is reasonably capable (but again, with shitty powers) and is only looking out for himself (and probably trying to sign his new reality show deal); and a dumb-as-brick robot led around by an idealistic young boy who thinks it would be cool to beat up bad guys.

Oh, yeah, that's comic book gold, right there. Excuse me while I call Fox to see if they want the movie rights. We'll try to get Brett Ratner to direct.

Anyone have any better ideas for these builds? Or any other cool heroes from old RPGs? Nothing's better than a ridiculous, lame superhero. Except of course, sharing that hero with others.

Like this?


  1. I love characters like these! These would make for a much more interesting superhero game than a group which was clones of Wolverine, Batman and Shazam.

  2. John StaterJune 14, 2011

    Good stuff!

  3. Edward ChaseJune 14, 2011

    When I was a young lad I ran a tournament game with tons of Marvel characters.  If I could not find a character pre-generated, I used the Official Marvel Handbook and created a playable version of the character.   

    My friends and I then did a brackets style playoffs to find the marvel champion in light (non super powered), medium and heavy weight categories.  I do not remember who won each group, but I remember it was a lot of fun and kept us busy for a full summer. 

    I wish I had the kind of time to do that again.  I guess I never grew up (at least that is what my wife would tell you). 

  4. B.J. JohnsonJune 14, 2011

    So was the guy with the lust powers and the boomerang code named "Rebound" perhaps?

  5. Love them all!

  6. The kid and the robot sounds an awful lot like The Iron Giant.  Different powers, of course, but a remarkably similar backstory.

    I could totally make Maurice work.  Just rip off The Mentalist show.

  7. CDGallant_KingJune 16, 2011

    You're probably right about the Iron Giant, but in my defence, I've never seen that movie.

    Maurice would be fun.  He would be one of those crackpot TV mediums, but occasionally, he would be right.

  8. CDGallant_KingJune 16, 2011

    I aim to please. :-)

  9. CDGallant_KingJune 16, 2011

    No, but it totally should have been.  That's pretty awesome. I think it was actually a "she" that looked like a blond Psylocke.  I was a hormonal 15-year old boy, remember.

  10. CDGallant_KingJune 16, 2011

    I don't know why I put "she" in quotations there.

  11. CDGallant_KingJune 16, 2011

    Damn.  That's pretty awesome.  Oh, how I miss the blissful, wasted days of youth.  Maybe I could find a way to run that at work on boring summer afternoons...


  12. CDGallant_KingJune 16, 2011

    Actually, they're really terrible, but I appreciate the vote of confidence.  ;-)

  13. CDGallant_KingJune 16, 2011

    I agree.  I would much rather play a game based on loser characters like "Kick-Ass" than the X-men.  "True" superheroes take themselves too seriously, but they run around in brightly-coloured tights and yell stupid catch phrases.  How can you take that seriously?

  14. Cool.  Downloaded it, tried it.

    I have Alvin, the sad alien.  Average at Melee and Fortitude, Remarkable Intellect and Awareness and Astounding Coordination, Brawn and Willpower.

    Powers are Body Armour, Supersense, and  Shapeshifting. Lifestyle 10 - independent professional.

    So average at fighting and not used to pain, hence the body armour, but can kill you at tennis, or any other sport. 

    He's a janitor from another dimension who made it to Earth by taking the wrong elevator.  He likes it, and is not going back.  He had his work costume, which acts as amour here, and a supersense of smell, as well as the ability to assume the shape of everyday objects, or people.  Works as a tennis coach.

    Thanks for the tip-off.  I'll put him to good use.

  15. I'm late replying to this one, I know. 

    I downloaded 4C a few days before I read this blog post, I got a good laugh as I generated some of the most absurd combinations I've seen since my days playing Marvel. 

    Still, the system holds a lot of promise. My players are all Marvel fans and I've tried to use Green Ronin's DCA game to run a supers campaign but their minds can't wrap around DC Level stuff. 4C; however, works perfectly for them. 

  16. CDGallant_KingJuly 20, 2011

    It is a simple and fun concept, to be sure.  And the characters are just stupid (in a good way).  Makes me miss the original Marvel Super Heroes, I wish I could find a copy.

    Next week I may be writing up a report on what happened when we actually tried to play this game...

  17. CDGallant_KingJuly 20, 2011

    See?  Just a few rolls and you create awesomeness.  And if he dies in the first adventure, so what?  It only takes a few minutes to roll-up the next one.


  18. check out Classic Marvel Forever's website. While certainly there's no substitution for the hard copy of the books, nearly every source and module is available there plus a lot of web resources. 

    When I found the sight I was able to DL (for free) the Adv Players Book and print it (100 pages is easier than some of my 200+ .pdfs) So now I'm able to use that for my players. 



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