4C (for "Four Colors") is a retro-clone of the 1980's Marvel Super Heroes RPG (commonly known as "FASERIP"). The book contains the complete game, which can be acquired as a free pdf through drivethru.com or in print through Lulu.com and contains only 32 pages. While I have never played the older MSH rpg to truly appreciate 4C, I am a huge fan of superhero gaming no matter what the system or setting might be (and of course with the pdf being free, it is perfect for my group).
The book is set up in the classic white background, 2 column format. There are 2 fonts used throughout the book, 1 of which is used just for the three chapter titles which is a good choice since the font used is rather busy and not very evocative of the superhero genre (to me it has more of a Western or 60’s feel to it). The other font is used throughout the book with bolding, italics, and varying sizes to differentiate titles from the regular text. Nice and crisp, the font and sizes of the font makes it a very easy read (as someone with glasses, sometimes different fonts and sizes can give me headaches). There are some grayed in areas, but the text is still very easy to read. There is less than a dozen pieces of art in this book which is a decent amount for its size, but as someone who prefers a good amount of artwork, it seems rather thin. However, the art that is in the book is very well done, in classic black & white, and works very well to give a nice super feel to the game even if the feel is a bit gritty.
Introduction (pages 1 - 2)
4C does not give a typical “What is Roleplaying?”, expecting those who are using the book to already know such things. Instead, it explains what dice are used (percentile d10’s), how the book makes note of the Advanced rules options, a quick thank-you to those who donated, and a reminder that the book has been presented into the public domain so that anyone can use the text and book in any way that they should wish.
Chapter 1: Characters (pages 4 - 20)
First up is your character’s origin. You roll randomly between Robot, Alien, Skilled Human, Changed Human, Mutant, and Technologically Enhanced. There are no bonuses or penalties to the game system for which origin you roll. However, the Advanced rules do give different bonuses and penalties depending on which origin is rolled.
Primary Traits, of which there are seven (Melee, Coordination, Brawn, Fortitude, Intellect, Awareness, and Intellect), are random rolled for their Rank Value, from 1 to 50. There are four Secondary Traits which are determined through different means. Damage is determined by adding Melee, Coordination, Brawn, and Fortitude together and is the value of how much damage your attacks deal. This value decreases depending on how much damage your character takes. Fortune is this system’s Hero/Drama/Luck points and is calculated from adding Intellect, Awareness, and Willpower together. Lifestyle, or your character’s wealth, is random rolled using one of the random roll tables (the book states to use “Table 1” but since none of the tables are numbered and there have been 2 tables already by this point, I am unsure of which table to use). Repute is also randomly rolled and the higher number the better for this trait is what determines how well known your character is (small nitpick, it tells you to see page 00 to see more in-depth rules for how Repute works, but there is not a page of that number in this book.
Rank Values are up next and these tell you what your trait numbers actually mean. An average human score in a trait is a 6-9, while max is 30-39, and cosmic is 150-999. There are Advanced rules for the Rank Values, suggesting that for a more powerful game where most of the supers are near the cosmic level you should instead have 17 different ranks of value instead of the 12 shown. While the game does give optional names for the 12 ranks in case you wish for a different set of descriptor names, the game does not show you how the numbers of a trait would correspond when there are 17 ranks instead of 12.
Skills are random rolled to see how many your character has, 4 is the max, and are completely player determined meaning there is no pre-set list of skills in the book. Skills give a +1 bonus to the Row Step and 2 skills can be traded in for an advanced skill which gives a +2. The Advanced rules allow for a contact to be taken instead of having a skill.
The number of Powers your character will have is determined through a random roll with 5 being the max. Which Power out of the 26 listed is also random rolled, as is the Rank Value for each Power. The Advanced Rules give you 50 Powers that you randomly roll for, suggesting that characters following the Advanced Rules cause them to have a wider variety of powers to choose from. The powers themselves are of the typical superhero variety.
Chapter 2: Playing the Game (pages 20 - 27)
The rules for playing the game are interesting. You have to look at the color-coded chart (Master Table) in the very back of the book (one is for the Basic Rules which has the 12 Rank Values and the other is for the Advanced Rules and has the full 17 Rank Values, which is nice that they are listed out in the Master Table since they were not listed out in the text when they were introduced). Using the Master Table, you look at the left-most column and find your Rank Value in the Power or Trait that you are using. Then you roll your d10 percentiles to get a number between 1 and 100. The Master Table tells you 1 of 4 different possibilities for your roll: Black=Failed Attempt, Red=Minor Success, Blue=Success, Yellow=Major Success. It is, of course, much easier to roll a Major Success the higher your Rank Value is.
The numbers for what you might roll on a d10 percentile is listed out in groups of numbers, 01-02, 03-05, 06-09, and so on. Each group is called a Row Step and depending on your modifiers, your roll total’s Row Step might lower or raise by a certain amount. You can also change a dice total by spending your Fortune points to increase or decrease the color itself, from Black to Red for example. Not only can you change the color for your own rolls, but you can change the color for the rolls of the villains as well as all of the players can pool their points together to increase or decrease the color of any roll. Though the mechanic of using points to give yourself a higher, or better, dice value, I find being able to modify the villains rolls and to be able to allow all of the players to pay to change the value of a given roll very cool. It helps to really put the power of the story back into the players hands, though I can see that it could spell trouble for certain types of GMs.
Combat is set up like most games. You roll Initiative, then act. Combat turns have no set length of time, just that they are what would take place over a single comic book panel. There are different combat actions available: Ranged, Melee (Bashing or Slashing), Rushing, Wrestling, and Dodging. You roll for these and use the Master Table in the back to see how well the action went off. I do not like how Wrestling actions change the meanings of the colors on the Master Table to have Red equal failure instead of a success. This would be cause for confusion during game. Also, you do not dodge in response to an attack but during your action to cause a penalty to the opponent’s roll. The Advanced rules give you even more combat options such as Evade and Block.
How much damage an attack has is determined by the Rank Value of the Brawn Trait, if it was a piece of scenery such as a lamppost, or if the attack was through a weapon.
There are Rank Values also given for different substances such as diamond or concrete.
Chapter 3: Gamemastering (pages 28 - 32)
This section gives rules for what the Wealth value means, how to set difficulties while using the Master Table, how much Fortune points to award for different acts, rules for dealing with Repute, and vehicle rules.
After this there is a chapter (determined as a chapter since it uses the strange font the other three chapters use) that is unlisted in the contents: Character Advancement. Comprising of only half a page, this very small chapter details how to spend Fortune points to increase your Powers, Traits, and Skills.
4C is an interesting system, but contains no setting to play your game in. Depending on your point of view, this might be a feature or a disadvantage. While it is a generic system, it is also very limited. For example, the only weapons listed are ranged ones, which will cause melee fights to be pure hand to hand or force players to chew up the scenery to deal additional damage. It would have been nice to see a few sample characters written up and a sample combat, showcasing how the chart is to be used.
All in all, I like how the book is laid out. There are no oddities in regards to the fonts, no strange full-page backgrounds that make it hard to read the page, and the artwork is all done in a similar style. I have to give this a 3 for Style. It is clearly not a high dollar rpg that had a huge art budget, but it is nowhere near terrible.
It is an interesting system and though I am not fond of having to refer to a chart to see what the dice roll means, it seems to work well enough. And for the low page count, the book is rather meaty in content. There are enough inconsistencies in this book, however, such as the book often tells you to refer to a certain page and most of the time it directs you to page “00” which does not exist (in the pdf at least) and how the Master Table works the same way except on the wrestling maneuvers, to give this book only a 3 for Substance.