How to Run a Daredevil RPG

Daredevil Title CardFor the last week and a half, like good little geeks and nerds, many of us have been participating in the ancient ritual of “binge watching” on Netflix, this time for a series that’s right in our wheelhouse: Marvel’s Daredevil, the first of four Marvel characters to join the streaming platform. Praised for it’s gritty violence and excellent cast, Daredevil is another feather in the cap of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

As a nerd of a very particular stripe – classification: tabletop gamer – I couldn’t help but watch the show and start to figure out how it would work as an RPG. First, let’s break down what any system hoping to emulate Daredevil would need.

(Mild spoilers for Netflix’s new Daredevil series below!)

Lethality

Daredevil Hallway Fight

That “gritty violence” that Daredevil gets praised for is code for the hero getting the ever-loving crap kicked out of him in episode after episode – a stark contrast to the heroes of the Avengers who might get a bit of dirt on their brow before bouncing back for the post-credits shawarma. Matt Murdock doesn’t bounce back. He gets shoved in a Dumpster and left for dead, he pulls out his stitches by moving too much, and really suffers the repercussions of the down and dirty fighting her participates in. Any system being used for Daredevil shouldn’t be one that lets the protagonist get in too many “wins,” and should have a robust system for handling wounded characters.

Dual-Classing

Wilson Fisk Daredevil Cats

While Daredevil himself is a pretty straightforward fighter (who probably min-maxed a bit with that “blind” disadvantage), his adversaries especially are pretty well-rounded, at least when it comes to their skills. Wilson Fisk could have just been a meathead who looked good in a suit, or he could have been a wheeler and dealer who got lazy while enjoying the finer things in life. Instead he’s smart, conniving, and will literally bash your face in on a car door when you make him angry. Your Daredevil system needs to allow for all of the complexities of modern human experience, and let the characters excel at it.

A City in Trouble

Daredevil Rooftop City

Setting Daredevil after the events of The Avengers gave Marvel the perfect way to return Hell’s Kitchen to the gritty slum it was back in the comics first run (Today? Hell’s Kitchen is the home of high rises and the Daily Show). Characters in Daredevil reference their love of “this city” almost as often as Oliver Queen does on Arrow. If your Daredevil system doesn’t have explicit city creation rules, you should at least make sure to do some extensive mapping on your own and be ready to fill the streets with a colorful cast of characters. Even better – get your players involved, and make sure all of them have friends, family, and a favorite Thai place connecting them to a few dangerous city blocks.

Secrets and Lies

madame gao daredevil faith

What would a superhero show be without some level of secrecy, and even outright lies, in the name of protecting a secret identity? But Daredevil turns it up to 11, with the bad guys constantly clawing and scraping at each other’s backs as the Kingpin consolidates his power. Any system hoping to emulate the darkness and corruption of the Daredevil characters, especially the villains, needs to have rules in place of lies, intrigue, and conspiracies.

Social Currency

Daredevil Fist Bump

Neither Daredevil nor Fisk would get very far if their world didn’t recognize the value of social currency. Both men have a knack for getting people to like them (or perhaps fear them). As mild-mannered lawyer by day, Matt has his fiercely loyal buddy Foggy and eager-to-help Karen both circling his orbit. As Daredevil, he saves Karen’s life and earns an early, unshakeable defender, and the nurse Claire fishes him out of a Dumpster and continues to patch up the Man in the Mask despite her better judgment. On the flip side, Wilson Fisk not only has his toadies and people on his payroll, but plays a complicated game with the other crime lords fighting for Hell’s Kitchen before revealing he might have something resembling a heart hidden deep within his massive chest. Daredevil is a flat world of black and white without rich character building opportunities.

So what system should you use to run your very own Daredevil RPG? I have no idea. It’s unlikely there’s any one system that embodies all of the elements of Daredevil. Rather, you’ll have to choose what aspect(s) is most important to you, and build from there. Do you love the gritty violence? Maybe adapting the rules of Warhammer 40K is where you start. Dresden Files is my go-to for any game that calls for the setting to be treated as a character, and White Wolf games have many interesting social rules and are just filled to the brim with conspiracies.

I turn the question to you: If you were to run a Daredevil RPG, what system would you use?

 


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About the Author
A city girl with midwestern roots, Angela has been on the internet for far too long. A geek of many stripes, when Angela isn't pretending to be a different person every weekend she can be found reading, writing (that novel will come out some day!), or preparing for her eventual life as a crazy cat woman. Angela also blogs about gaming at the blog Gaming as Women http:///www.gamingaswomen.com

6 comments on “How to Run a Daredevil RPG

  1. Craig Payne says:

    If you were particularly playing up a bit of the investigation elements, I’d probably suggest Night’s Black Agents, possibly with a shade of Mutant City Blues for some super powers if you were really wanting to add that side of things. You can leverage the Trust mechanics for the secrets and lies, and the setting can be pretty brutal and lethal (particularly when guns get involved). Throw in the Martial Arts – GUMSHOE ZOOM supplement Pelgrane published and I think you’d have a pretty solid system for the game.

    For creating the city itself, I’d probably suggest the Smallville/Cortex Plus Drama pathways system, but that’s largely because the system is a pretty fun “game” just on its own!

  2. Mike says:

    Going the arbitrary Fate post. Venture City Stories with street level powers, consequences fit the lasting physical damage a good go, able to stat out multifaceted characters through aspects and various skills and slide in a Social Stress Track and Consequences to manage that aspect, all tied into Dresden style City Creation rules to really get the players invested. A case can be made to fit the Eagle Eyes supplement’s mystery system which I feel represents Murdock’s method of solving mysteries well. The only thing I’m a bit iffy on is the lack of Lethality of the system, but Daredevil really never dies, it’s the people around him that suffer so that avenue is still easily open for npcs.

  3. Warren says:

    If we’re looking at a single system, then the choice is clear – Pathfinder! 🙂

    No, I think for a single system, Dresden/Fate may do most of what’s needed.

    As you say, it has the idea of setting as character. It also has both physical an mental damage tracks.

    ‘Taking someone out’ can be just out of that conflict/fight or it can mean death. So you can have Matt pummeling a corridor full of guys (they really should have left the music out of that scene) and nobody dies. Or have that scene you allude to with Fisk.

    The skill pyramid means that you probably get a reasonable distribution of abilities.

    Power/refresh level would be tough to determine. Even at street level there’s quite a disparity between the characters.

  4. Angela says:

    Craig – I really need to dig back into Cortex. I love their Supernatural game, but I know they’ve done quite a bit of revamping and I’ve never gone back to take a proper look. Billy also just bought Mutant City Blues at Maelstrom two weeks ago, and he really like the game, so that’s likely to turn up on Fandible’s docket at some point (though probably not with the goal of perfectly emulating Daredevil)

    Mike – I want a system with high lethality not because I actually want to take out a PC, but those systems often have mechanics in place for dealing with you getting progressively more beat up. Matt has very real physical consequences after a bad night as Daredevil, but Fate might be able to accommodate that with a ruthless application of aspects/conditions and Compels.

    Warren – The more you lay it out, the more I like Dresden, as it is a system that is set up to have super awesome cool people side by side with normals. You’re right that the refresh balance would be an issue to work out. Maybe there’s something in Venture City Stories (which is another one I haven’t read! My gaming TBR list is going to be as long as my novel TBR list soon) that could be adapted to complement both systems?

  5. Syren says:

    I am in agreement with Mr. Payne and his Gumshoe suggestions. I would also suggest ORE, depending on how fantastical you want to make Daredevil himself you can instigate certain extra dice rules, but otherwise I’d probably stick a bit to the rules in A Dirty World. It’s semi-noir attitude fits the general grittiness of a life in Daredevil, though I’ve not seen the show only read the comics.

  6. Warren says:

    Letting this roll around in my head, and having finished watching the first season in one gloriously bingey Saturday, I don’t know if I’m still happy with Fate for the feel.

    The mechanics all seem to be there, especially if the GM is good about tagging the compels and consequences. However, in practice, it always seems to gain a pulpy element by the final scene (if not before).

    Think I need to investigate some of the other suggestions in this list.

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