The Black Bat (Spirit of the Century)

I’ve been trying to replicate some old pulp characters in various RPG systems. My main goal is to get familiar with a few game systems I’ve only had a chance to skim. My plan is to try creating the same characters in a few different systems.

It also gives me the excuse to read a little deeper into the pulp literature, especially some of the more obscure figures.

I’m going to start off with a character I like, along with the system I’m most familiar with:

The Black Bat, as generated in Spirit of the Century.

blackbatThe Black Bat is a somewhat obscure figure, despite the fact he had 60+ stories. He came a little later than some of the more famous heroes. He first appeared in Black Book Stories in 1939, and ran to 1953.

With his black costume, cape, and, obviously, the name, he seems very similar to Batman. His origin, however, is lot closer to the Batman villain Two-Face.

In the first story, “Brand of the Black Bat”, Anthony “Tony” Quinn is a successful, incorruptible district attorney. During the trial of a gangster, an assassin hurls acid in Quinn’s face, scarring his face and blinding him.

A mysterious woman offers him a secret operation to replace his eyes, and restore his sight. It succeeds, not only restoring his sight, but gives him the ability to see in the dark. He continues to pose as a blind man, donning the mask and cape to become what the second book – “Murder Calls the Black Bat” describes:

He had become a Nemesis, a dark blot of shadow soon feared by every man who lived by violence or by his wits, and now was a scourge of the underworld of crime.

Anthony Quinn – The Black Bat

Superb (5)   Stealth
Great (4)      Investigation, Alertness
Good (3)       Fists, Guns, Athletics
Fair (2)         Burglary, Contacting, Intimidation, Deceit
Average(1)   Drive, Resolve, Science, Endurance, Resources

Stunts

  • In Plain Sight (SOTC 197)  SOTC: Spirit of the Century rule book
  • Master of Shadows (SOTC 197)
  • Shadowed Strike (SOTC 198)
  • Deadly Shadows (SOTC 198)
  • Uncanny Awareness (STOTC 410) STOTC: Strange Tales of the Century supplement
  • See in Dark (Unofficial Stunt – Darkness aspects can not be used against Quinn, can see normally in anything more than total darkness)

Aspects

  • Fake Blind Man
  • Famous D.A.
  • War on Crime
  • Under Suspicion from Sgt. McGrath
  • Must protect his friends
  • Enemy of the Underworld
  • Marks criminals with the sign of the Bat.

Like many pulp heroes, the Bat has loyal companions. First, his loyal valet, and former con man Silk Kirby.

“And Silk had become invaluable to Quinn, since not only was he a reformed burglar whose loyalty to Tony Quinn now approached fanaticism, but he was also an ex-confidence man, glib as the best in that racket.”

Daniels, Norman A.. The Black Bat Omnibus Volume 1 (Annotated)  Altus Press.

Silk Kirby

Former Criminal, Tony’s Valet
Superb (5)    Deceit
Great (4)       Burglary, Alertness
Good (3)        Guns, Drive, Fists
Fair (2)          Stealth, Athletics, Contacting, Resolve
Average (1)   Investigation, Rapport, Intimidation, Sleight of Hand,

Stunts

  • Clever Disguise (SOTC 135)
  • Mimicry (SOTC 135)
  • Master of Disguise (SOTC 136)
  • Criminal Mind (SOTC 129)
  • Hidden in Plain Sight (STOTC 422)

Aspects

  • Criminal Past
  • Loyal to the Bat
  • Former Valet

He also had the aid of the bruiser Butch O’Leary. A brawny, but dim ex-boxer who was one of Quinn’s most loyal companions.

“…a tremendous hulk of a man who had attracted Tony Quinn’s notice during a bank robbery when Butch had leaped at a machine-gun armed thug who was in the act of mowing down a score of bystanders. Quinn had known at once that Butch was a man he could trust”

Daniels, Norman A.. The Black Bat Omnibus Volume 1 (Annotated) . Altus Press.

Jack “Butch” O’Leary

Superb (5)   Might
Great (4)     Endurance, Fists
Good(3)       Athletics, Resolve, Drive
Fair (2)        Alertness, Rapport, Weapons
Average (1)  Stealth, Empathy, Contacting

Stunts

  • Brawler (SOTC 150)
  • Herculean Strength (SOTC 171)
  • One Hit to the Body (SOTC 146)
  • Mix it Up (SOTC 151)

Aspects

  • Slow-witted
  • Strong as a Bull
  • Selfless Bravery
  • Former Boxer
  • Loyal to the Bat

The Bat’s last assistant and love interest was Carol Baldwin, the woman who arranged the operation to restore Tony Quinn’s sight. :

“She was Tony Quinn’s dream of feminine perfection come true. She, alone, had given him back his sight and restored his peace of mind. Her own father had been shot by a criminal. …. It was the healthy corneas from his eyes that had been transplanted in Tony Quinn’s. And her father’s dying wish had been that she in some way ally herself with forces that opposed crime. For this reason she had become Tony Quinn’s capable and trusted assistant.”

Daniels, Norman A.. The Black Bat Omnibus Volume 1 (Annotated)  Altus Press.

Carol Baldwin

Superb (5)    Rapport
Great (4)       Empathy, Investigation
Good (3)        Deceit, Resolve, Contacting
Fair (2)          Stealth, Athletics, Alertness,
Average(1)   Drive, Fists,  Guns

Stunts

Popular Gal (SOTC 182)
Best Foot Forward (SOTC 181)
Five Minute Friends (SOTC 182)

Aspects

  • War on Crime
  • Kidnapping Magnet
  • Murdered Policeman Father
  • Loyal to the Bat
  • Tony Quinn’s love interest

Spirit of The Century (Part 4) – Pulp Advice

The last part of the Tips & Tricks chapter discusses a number of topics, all related to keeping a pulp tone in a game. It’s a little too wide-ranging to talk about in any detail, but some of the following ideas are discussed:

  • Keeping the action on a clock
  • Providing clues to players
  • Insuring everything is action-oriented
  • Proper use of clichés
  • Creating  deathtraps
  • Building mysteries
  • Framing scenes
  • Using montages and cut scenes

All of it is good well-thought advice to “Keep it Pulpy“, as they put it. Once again, this whole chapter makes the book a must buy, purely for this chapter.

Spirit of The Century (Part 3) – Pickup Games

The heart of the Spirit of the Century (SOTC) book, and I think the best reason to pick this up, is the chapter on how to run a pulp adventure. It’s geared to SOTC, but the ideas and advice would work in any pulp game. This chapter – “Tips and Tricks” – justifies the purchase of this book for any pulp GM.

It starts out describing how set up a Pickup Game – a quickly organized game, where you don’t know what adventure you’ll be running or how many players you’ll have beforehand. Then it describes the various approaches of running a Pickup Game. The following are just a summary of the approaches:

Structured Pickup Game

This method all of the story beats you’d find in a pulp adventure – Endangering the Characters, Certain Doom, Twists, etc. with a description and several examples of each. The idea is that the GM would create or improvise each of these things, and tie them all together at the end.

Aspected Pickup Game

In comparison, the Aspected Pickup game is a lot more loose. Instead of working out a plot beforehand, the GM sets up Decision Points – dramatic moments where the players are forced to make a choice. These would be based on the aspects of the characters. For example, if a character had a Secret Identity aspect, the GM might put the player in a position where they had to risk revealing their identity to save a friend from mortal peril. This method has the advantage of  pulling in players to the action. It will require a lot more improvisation on the part of the GM.

Dynamic Pickup Game

First, you set up the hook – the thing everyone in the story interested in. In movie fan lingo, they would call this a McGuffin. Next, you decide what NPCs are after the item, and what they’re willing to do to get it.

That’s it. They cover this in more detail, and tell you how to flesh out the plot, but that is the basic structure.

What do I use?

When I’ve run my SOTC games, I’ve generally been using a combination of Aspected and Dynamic styles. I usually have a few hooks and NPC’s prepared, but I also have scenes designed to test the players specific abilities and aspects. The first method – Structured, seems a little too railroad for my taste.

 

Spirit of The Century (Part 2) – The Background

The basic concept is that the players are all members of the Century Club, a global organization with chapters around the world. Publicly, it’s a group of rich adventurers and explorers. Secretly, it’s controlled by the Centurions, a group of exceptional individuals who here all born on January 1st, 1901. Most of the players are expected to be Centurions. The background hints at other, more powerful kinds of Centurions, and a mysterious ancient linage to the club itself, but the details are left to the GM.

05_Brass-Crew[1]

Comic fans familiar with Warren Ellis’s work might have heard of this idea before. Many of his characters in his Authority and Planetary comics had the same trait. They were called Century Babies in his work, but the basic idea was similar. The pulp characters Ellis introduced in Planetary #1  are pretty much perfect Spirit of the Century characters.

The Century Club concept makes a good starting point for a pulp campaign. If you’re just starting out with pulp, I think I’d recommend it. I’ll admit, that though I’ve been running Spirit for the last few years, I’ve never used it. If you’ve got a good handle of the pulp archetypes and stories, it’s not absolutely necessary.

Spirit of the Century (Part 1) – Rules

My go-to system for pulp adventures is Evil Hat’s Spirit of the Century. It’s based on their FATE system.

sotc-220If you’re not used to FATE, it can be a big adjustment form more traditional role-playing games. It’s a much more narrative system, better suited to simulating genres and quick play than more mechanical systems.

The advantage to this is that it’s a lot easier to set up a quick encounter by using the aspects feature in FATE.

Aspects are just a quick means to describe a property of a place or person. This applies to everything in the game, including the PCs. Aspects can be  physical, mental, or just genre-based. Anything that would affect the story.

If i need a band of cultists quickly, I can just say they  have the aspects Fanatical Cultists, Protect Idol at All Costs, and Can only Fight in Packs. That’s all the information I need to run an encounter. (there are some other stats, but they’re quite simple to make up)

I can create a place quickly, by just listing a bunch of aspects – Shadowy Corners, Rickety Stairs, Crates of Weird Artifacts, etc.

I won’t go into details of how it all works, but the aspects aren’t just for flavor, they have an actual mechanical effect in the game. There’s a good intro at https://fate-srd.com/

The full Spirit of the Century rule set is at http://www.faterpg.com/dl/sotc-srd.html

The nice thing about SOTC is that it’s ridiculously easy to make up a scenario quickly. It’s specifically designed for “pick-up” play, so you can run a game with little preparation.

On the con side: FATE can take some getting used to, and it helps to have the special FATE dice, though ordinary six sided dice can be used.

SOTC is currently out of print as a paper version, but the PDF and E-book versions are still available.