Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I love comic books.

More specifically, I love superheroes.

I love when new characters (complete with new costumes) are introduced.
I love that purple and green is an acceptable and established color scheme for a costume.

And like so many children, I always thought it would be the coolest thing to be a superhero. Of course, deciding on which one was always difficult. To have Matt Murdock’s Radar Sense, or Spider-Man’s ability to cling to walls and super strength, or Nighthawk’s cool costume….. difficult choices.

Enter a love of roleplaying games, the chance to pretend to be a superhero. I’ve played many superhero RPGs over the years, and as much as I loved poring over the Official Handbook stats and seeing what powers and power levels individuals had, each system seemed to be lacking something.

It is my belief that Batman and Superman are made with roughly the same number of points. Those of you more used to point based superhero RPGs (Ian, I am looking at you) will guffaw at this belief. But I would propose this theory- if they aren’t, why are they equally matched, why are they able to team up and take on earth-shattering foes. And, for that matter, I would additionally offer up that Lex Luthor is made with as many, if not more, character points that Supes or Bats.

Now, a skill based system can attempt to replicate this, but, at the end of the day, is Batman’s 10 ranks in detective equivalent to the fact that Superman is nigh-invulnerable and can push the moon out of orbit? In a combat situation, I’d say… no… Yet Batman is not at all an ineffective combatant.

Speaking of combat, superhero (and villain) combats are fast, fun, and not very crunchy in RPG terms. Many superhero RPGs attempt to quantify every power, explaining what a character can do, the exceptions that their powers activate, and thus, superhero combats become a dice-fest.

As I had secured myself a table full of gamers ready to play a superhero game, I began to think about how best to balance a character who wanted a Superman level character with one who wanted to play a character closer to Deadpool in power. And how about Deadpool’s ability to break the fourth wall (or She-Hulk’s, for that matter, thank you Mr. Byrne). And villains, without handwaving the villainous nature of Lex Luthor, how to implement that level of villainy into a system to make characters fear him, but have that fear be reflected in the system itself?

I tried several published systems, and still was not able to capture the feel of the comic books. In many systems, Superman’s awesome strength will essentially mean that he will need to fight other similarly powered (similar in “points” and in strength/ toughness, to be able to withstand his mighty blows). And what about a Deadpool like ability to break the Fourth Wall? And what about an over-the top (or not over-the top as the case may be… wink) costume like Power Girl’s, which has come into play in regards to her character. And the Hulk’s ability to Hulk Out? And Wolverine’s ninja skills?

Comic book characters are both incredibly static, and also constantly changing, often depending on the writer and how they interpret their powers. Instead of having to retcon these new interpretations of their powers, what about a system that allowed for characters to explore their powers and abilities in the same way. Grant Morrison’s Plastic Man from JLA was written as one of the most powerful characters in the DCU. As a Plastic Man fan, I loved this, but certainly, pre-existing “data” on his powers did not indicate this.

So, I started this running this superhero campaign, we tried a couple systems none of which were able to capture the diversity of powers and flavor for the superheroic combats that I think all of the players were interested in. I began to think in terms of being a comic book writer instead of someone running a game and trying to force the square peg into the circular hole (quantifying superhero powers and abilities into concrete stats). As I began to think in these terms, I began imagining a game system that would allow the GameMaster and the Players the ability to have as much fun telling their shared story as an actual comic book writer had when writing an issue of a comic.

Thus, was born Capes, Cowls, and Villains Foul. Using Cartoon Action Hour: Season 2 as the starting point, I starting tinkering (with Cynthia’s permission) with how Traits were created, trying to imagine all the various situations in a comic book, and how to recreate them in a quick and easy way. How would one create the Hulk’s Strength? How could one explain a character who gets beat up and ends up getting stronger? How to create a speedster who can do all the all the cool stuff that speedsters do, on occasion, without having to resort to purchasing additional Tricks, Feats, Extras. How about the power armored character with a warehouse full of specialty armors…. And primarily, to craft a system that understood that Batman, Superman and Lex Luthor were all similarly powered, and that although Superman can move the moon, Batman has some tricks up his sleeve as well, as does the diabolical Lex Luthor.


  1. This sounds fantastic. I've downloaded the quickplay preview and it looks like great fun. How long before we see the final product, and will it be a print, print-on-demand, and/or PDF?

  2. We're hoping for a January 2011 release date. It will be available as POD and PDF.

  3. Fantastc. I'll be keeping an eye out for it. The little hints you've dropped and the preview have whet my appitite, and I'd like some more please