Cartoon Action Hour
Cartoon Action Hour is a role-playing game designed to emulate classic action-adventure cartoons, such as ThunderCats, He-Man, Transformers, G.I. Joe, Visionaries, Inhumanoids, Centurions, Thundarr the Barbarian, M.A.S.K., and Bravestarr.
It was e-published by Spectrum Games as a PDF role-playing game (RPG) in early 2002, where it garnered a sizable cult following. This prompted Z-Man Games to offer to publish the game as a hardcopy edition. The material from the PDF was revised and expanded upon for the 2003 print version.
Cartoon Action Hour implements a relatively simple ruleset. The core resolution system revolves around rolling a d12, adding a number to it, and comparing it to a Difficulty Number. If the result equals or exceeds that Difficulty Number, the character succeeds in the task at hand.
Whereas most RPGs give all characters an identical list of attributes (such as Strength, Agility, Intelligence, etc.) and a variable collection of skills, Cartoon Action Hour rolls them all into one type of stat known as Traits. Each character will have a different list of Traits, with ratings ranging from -4 (nearly non-existent) to 4 (maximum human capability), with 0 being average.
To represent Traits with superhuman or supernatural levels of ability, the designers use super-ratings. Characters with a Trait rating of 4 may have another number in parenthesis, ranging from 2 to 5. This super-rating allows the player to roll more than one d12 when testing that Trait, taking the best result.
Superpowers, magic spells, vehicles, weapons, armor, racial abilities, animal companions, psionic abilities, and magic artifacts -- They can all be created using the Special Ability creation rules. Each Special Ability is designed by picking and choosing appropriate "components" that define it. For example, an energy blast would need the following components: Damage Rating and Range. This can easily be customized further by adding other components and modifiers, thus making the Special Ability truly unique.
Reflecting the Genre
Every facet of Cartoon Action Hour was created with an eye toward faithfully depicting the subject matter. This is what the authors refer to as "cartoon logic". A few examples of this are as follows:
- Characters cannot be killed. Rather, they just go "Out of the Fight" (or OOF) for the remainder of the combat scene. Characters can die in "The Movie", however.
- Huge weapons (such as bazookas, rocket launchers, etc.) deal more damage to vehicles than to characters. In the cartoons, such weapons tend to blow vehicles to smithereens, but when it comes to characters, these weapons usually just hit near them and the impact from the explosion merely sends them flying into a wall or something. Again, cartoon logic.
- Characters receive experience for participating in After-Show Messages ("... And Knowing is half the battle!").
- The rules institute a quick and entertaining way for characters to fight those swarms of nameless henchmen (such as Cobra Vipers from GI Joe). These minion groups have a single score called Goon Factor, which acts as the Difficulty Number for fighting them. Success means that the character dispatches them (and the player gets to decide how -- like pulling the carpet from under their feet, shooting the ceiling and thus trapping them beneath the resulting rubble, and so on). Failure means that the characters are overwhelmed and are captured.
Since the hardcopy edition of Cartoon Action Hour was released, numerous supplemental products have been released.
- After These Messages...: This e-magazine featured a wide variety of articles for use with CAH, but was cancelled after two issues so that Spectrum Games could devote more attention to their sourcebooks.
- Darkness Unleashed: This book details a cartoon military/horror series.
- Metal Wars: This book offered up a series devoted to giant transforming robots.
- Star Warriors: This book presents a space opera-style cartoon series. PDF only.
- Saturday Morning Slugfest: This yet-to-be-released PDF book caters to the superhero cartoon sub-genre.
Spectrum Games is currently playtesting a second edition of the game, which will be released in October 2007. Dubbed "Cartoon Action Hour: Season 2", this new version seeks to eliminate in-game record keeping, facilitate faster play, streamline the Special ability system (now called "Action Features"), and take the cartoon logic aspect even further.
As it stands, CAH: S2 will be released as a PDF product, though Spectrum Games is still negotiating with publishers for a hardcopy version to be released at a later date. This follows the release model used for the first edition of the game.