What is an Action Shtick? (part 2)

Leaping from rooftop to rooftop on a racing train. Streaking to catch a falling civilian before he goes splat. Racing past the sign that says the bridge ahead is out.

These are Action Shticks, classic challenges that go with a particular situation or environment. By definition they are not original. They are the things you see characters do in books, movies and comics. When you identify classic Action Shticks and use them in your game, you give your players the opportunity to act out those cool moments.

We’ve already laid out the basics of Action Shticks:

1) Action Shticks are defined by the genre: an Action Shtick that is appropriate in one genre might not fit another genre. A cattle stampede is a Western staple, but no matter how many cows you have it’s not appropriate for a film noir detective game.

2) Action Shticks are interactive: they are situations the heroes are in, not just something that happens to them. Trying to defuse a bomb before it explodes is an Action Shtick (“red wire or blue wire?”). Getting caught in an explosion is just damage. Hitting someone with a telephone pole is a good superhero move, but it doesn’t create a situation other characters can react to or interact with – it’s just a combat maneuver.

3) Action Shticks are portable and reusable: if it works in one situation, it will work in a similar situation. It is not dependent on specifics of the plot. A car chase Action Shtick works in any car chase. Any time you are on a rope bridge, you could use the “someone cuts the ropes” Action Shtick, regardless of who that someone is.

An Action Shtick might include specific rules to handle the situation or it might not, as needed.

There are Action Shticks in Zodiac Ring and Dr Null: Battle on the Bay Bridge, but let’s look at the specifics of a superhero Action Shtick from Day of Dr Null. It’s Open Game Content, so knock yourself out.


Buildings are the common backdrop for city battles, so most attacks that miss their target will hit a building sooner or later, potentially showering the street below with falling debris. Depending on their abilities heroes can try to evacuate bystanders from the area or shield them from the debris.

The damage inflicted is determined by the damage to the building and its composition. A glancing blast that knocks loose a spray of bricks or broken glass is light debris, while a collapsing facade of a substantial building would be heavy debris. Massive debris should be saved for when an entire building falls over into the street. As a rule of thumb, the damage of the attack that knocks the debris loose should be at least as great as the damage the falling debris will cause. Victims also run the risk of being pinned under the falling rock and girders.


Pick size of Debris with damage that is equal to or less than damage of attack that hit building, adjusted upwards if building was already damaged or is fragile.

Light Debris – damage 6 area explosion
Heavy Debris – damage 10 area explosion, linked Snare 6
Massive Debris – damage 14 area explosion, linked Snare 10

Debris hits one round after it starts falling (increase if desired). Make a single Reflex save versus the area damage and Snare. You can also opt to have a dust cloud (Obscure) fill the same area that the debris hit for several rounds thereafter.

Initiative Variant: Instead of having debris hit in one round, have heroes roll Initiative versus the falling debris (Init -4) to be able to take an action before it hits. Hero Points can be used to re-roll and act faster. Civilians might not perceive the threat or be able to move fast enough to save themselves.

Just having things fall on you is an environmental hazard – you take damage and move along. Adding a delay before the debris hits transforms it into a comic book shtick. It makes the situation interactive, giving the heroes a chance to save innocent bystanders or even other heroes unable to protect themselves. Is it more dangerous to the heroes? No. Is it more interesting to play? Yes, definitely. By writing out the Action Shtick it reminds the GM that this is something interesting that can happen in this situation.

Even though the examples here have all been physical, an Action Shtick can just as easily be social. When you have to figure out which grappling figure is your friend and which is the evil doppleganger (“No, I’m the real one!” “Don’t listen to him, I’m the real one!”), that’s a social Action Shtick. When you try to rouse your mind controlled ally with pleas to her good inner nature or the times you spent together fishing as children, that’s a social Action Shtick. The upcoming Death of Dr Null includes some more examples of social Action Shticks.

[Open Game License]

    Ben Robbins | August 2nd, 2006 | , | show 3 comments