The project I’m featuring today is a unique urban superhero RPG game dreamed up by Fisher Lee. Fisher has built some clever terrain using a lot of items found around the house. Between the DIY terrain and mat and the custom rules, the game is a homebrew through and through!
To Play Is Human: I hear that you have made a tabletop mat and terrain for a homebrew RPG game. Can you tell me a bit about the game? Is it a mod from an existing set of rules or is it completely designed by you?
Fisher: I run a homebrew super hero game. I’ve been running a version of it for over 25 years now. I had really gotten into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness game that was based on the Heroes Unlimited system. It was fun, but pretty clunky – like other hero games Marvel Super Heroes and DC Heroes – but each one had a nice point here or there. I was visiting some old friends and they ran a homebrew game that was so much fun – not all the complicated stats, just what I needed for my character… and we had my character made in minutes, not hours!!
I went home with all kinds of new ideas. I took what I liked about the Heroes Unlimited system and scrapped the rest. Then I added what I liked about other systems. On the surface you would see some hints from the Palladium systems like HP and SDC (structural damage capacity for cuts and bruises, etc…) but most is from me. The majority of the game runs on a d20 – everyone already has one on hand so let’s use it as much as possible.
Most of the game comes down to “what do you want to do?”. I look at the situation (your character, its strengths and weaknesses, the difficulty of the feat) and pick a number for the difficulty and you try to beat it on a d20. If you are particularly skilled in a particular feat, like an acrobat, you would have a bonus on your sheet for those kinds of rolls… like a +5. We only write down what matters for your character. We don’t need to waste a bunch of time figuring out what you’re NOT good at… let’s get to the fun stuff, like your powers and weapons! I still keep some old copies of the Heroes Unlimited books around for inspiration for powers, but I change EVERYTHING about them. Everything in that game was WAY under powered, so I make my own rules for how powers work, and what will affect them. If you roll up some random powers, I will tweak them so they make sense together and fit in with existing story lines you may be unaware of. I have one character in my game right now that has no idea they are actually part of a much larger story arch, but the powers they wanted fit right in with my story. I can’t wait until they figure it out!
TPIH: The setup for your homebrew sounds interesting. From what you’ve said, it sounds like anyone, regardless of RPG experience, should be able to jump in and create a character pretty quickly and start playing. Do you have an example of a character sheet from your game that you could share?
Fisher: Yes, it is pretty easy to join. I can usually talk someone through their character sheet and the basic mechanics of game play in 10-20 mins (it easier for those that have played RPGs before). I’ve included two different character sheets:
Arrow is one of the oldest characters in the game. He’s a weapons specialist who is deadly with any weapon and he is also a hand-to-hand assassin. Between his gifts, training, and time playing (experience) he has amassed some huge bonuses to hit, etc. I had to lower his attacks per round when we expanded our game to 12 people because having 8 slowed down game play too much.
I put all the character sheets in plastic report covers. For characters like Arrow who have ammunition to keep up with there are Os by the item and we use dry erase markers to keep track of when they have been used. It also makes it easy to keep up with damage to hit points and SDC. For anyone who has never played a Palladium game, HP are life points for serious injuries, blood loss, poison, etc. And SDC (structural damage capacity) are for cuts, scrapes and bruises. He has high SDC from all his physical training AND separate SDC for the armor he wears, so it is easy to keep track of the difference if he ever loses his armor, which has happened more than once.
Layla is one of our newest characters. My friend Tina joined in when her family joined the game. She has never played anything like this before and she picked it up in minutes and quickly became one of the most formidable players on the team! So much so she was afraid I would take away her charm powers because they were SO effective. She had completely different ideas about how she wanted to play, and what she wanted in a character, and I LOVE it! She has been the most interesting addition to the team. Because she is a new player she is essentially starting at level 1 (if we still did levels), so she doesn’t have as many attacks per round (which are attacks, actions, whatever you want to try and do) or bonuses, but that will all increase as she goes. She does have a high bonus to hit for a beginner, but that is because she is a powerful, natural telepath and most of her attacks are psychic.
I thought when writing up her character sheet that her telekinesis would be her main attack, but she has figured out very interesting uses for her “song” attack. Her species is like an alien cuttlefish and she sings a song while her body flashes bright colorful patterns – combined with her natural telepathy, it gives her an 85% chance to charm people. They are totally mesmerized by her, and she has used it to save the day in almost every game. She has used it to harmlessly capture villains and monsters. She used her telepathy to realize one monster they were fighting was actually just a lost kid who fell in toxic waste years ago and became this giant toxic zombie. She charmed him and used her illusion ability to show him his childhood home and his mother to keep him calm until they could relocate him to a secure facility to try and find him help.
TPIH: I loooove what you did with the pop cans! What was the process for getting that look?
Fisher: For the chemical tanks I built from soda cans, I started from the base of rust and worked my way out. I started with reds and browns all over and then added some sand glued on for a more rusted texture and painted it to match the other rust, then started to add specks of orange and yellow to highlight the rust. Next, I started to sponge and dry brush white paint over it, so everywhere the paint broke you would see the rust poking through like it was a completely rusted shell just barely holding together by the white paint! I’m pretty proud of how it turned out.
TPIH: You should definitely be proud of how the chemical tanks turned out. Such a cool technique with a great result! What are some of your favorite pieces that you’ve built for this game?
Fisher: It’s hard to pic a favorite piece I’ve made… Usually the last piece I made is my new favorite. Like the little sci-fi towers that I made out of hair curlers, or the city scene pieces like AC units and trash bags and dumpsters, or the bone piles I recently made for one of our last games. But really, my overall favorite would be the most simple and useful… the game mat and buildings. They are not the flashiest, but they are the MOST useful, and they have really brought our game to life! I designed the mat around my plans for the city. The streets are designed for hot wheels cars, which are a little out of scale but they are cheap and plentiful. The buildings were ridiculously quick and easy, footprints are a little small, but it’s more about having rooftops to climb on, alleys to hide in, and banks to protect than actually playing inside. If we need the interior of a building I will draw it out on paper and lay it down. Just laying down the mat does so much to inspire imagination… I just love it.
TPIH: Where do you get your inspiration for the pieces you’ve created so far?
Fisher: So far most of my inspiration has come from looking out the window as we drive through town or watching the background of movies and TV shows. I look for what pieces really made the scene look a certain way… what made it FEEL like a chemical plant? or a warehouse? Once I find something that really gives it that feel, then I know what I’m building next!
TPIH: I know you used pop cans and hair rollers in your builds and I see plastic spoons in some of the vehicles. Are there any other common household items that you use to build pieces for the set?
Fisher: I use a lot of toothpicks, bamboo skewers, lollipop sticks (clean ones for candy making), beads, the plastic tops off of soda bottles, apple sauce… Even the little plastic plugs that seal in my almond milk… They make great little lids, hatches or satellite dishes. The very first building I made with those chemical tanks was just an upside-down Q-tip box with a few bits glued on for doors and such. I’m always looking at EVERYTHING to see what it could be turned into now.
TPIH: How big of a space do you need to set up the entire city?
Fisher: I designed the mat to fit on our kitchen table at the house. It takes up most of the table but it fits great. Now that we are playing with 10-12 people, we play at a local comic book store with an attached game room. We put two plastic banquet tables together and lay the map in the middle, that gives plenty of room for the map and everyone can have room around the sides for their character sheets, dice rolling, snacks, etc… I love it there! I also have a whole table behind me with all the boxes of terrain I drag to the games. It’s my staging area. I spread out the different boxes and grab what I need as we go.
I spend the whole game on my feet pacing around the table – partly to get all around to add bits as needed, but mostly because it’s easier to think on my feet and to act out the parts of all the other characters. I will be SO sore at the end of the game, but it’s worth it to have so much fun with so many new friends!
TPIH: Thank you so much for sharing your project with us, Fisher! I love all the passion and creativity that has gone into it so far. It sounds like you’ve got a great group to enjoy it with, as well.
There are so many more photos of Fisher’s project than I can share here. Pop over to The Tabletop Crafters Guild on Facebook to see posts that Fisher (Fish Lee) has made there to see more of his projects!
You can leave questions and comments for Fisher in the comment section below. If you love his project, let him know!
CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS
Do you have a tabletop gaming project that you’ve created? Contact me with some information and photos. No project is too big/small — as long as you made it yourself and you use it when you game, it is eligible for submission! I would love to see projects for board game upgrades and accessories, RPGs, miniatures (I would love to see mini paint jobs!), terrain, dice towers, custom playmats, custom dice, or anything else you have made.